Saturday, February 22, 2014

Conor O’Shea’s #ENGvIRL preview

Conor O'Shea is a rugby coaching ambassador for QBE, the business insurance specialist and official partner of England Rugby.

For more expert insight into the RBS 6 Nations, visit www.qberugby.com.

Harlequins Director of Conor O'Sheal coaches QBE Hit Squad Winners Rochford Hundred Rugby Club 1st Team Squad - 19.2.2014<br /><br />Picture by Antony Thompson - Thousand Word Media, NO SALES, NO SYNDICATION. Contact for more information mob: 07775556610 web: www.thousandwordmedia.com email: antony@thousandwordmedia.com<br /><br />The photographic copyright (© 2014) is exclusively retained by the works creator at all times and sales, syndication or offering the work for future publication to a third party without the photographer's knowledge or agreement is in breach of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, (Part 1, Section 4, 2b). Please contact the photographer should you have any questions with regard to the use of the attached work and any rights involved.

There is one place to be this weekend if you are watching international rugby - and that is Twickenham. France and Ireland may be the two unbeaten sides in this years' RBS Six Nations Championship but there is no doubt that the two form sides are the sides that meet in Twickenham.

A lot has been said and written about England over the past few weeks but what will Ireland or more particularly their coaches be looking for their team to do:

1.       Target the Scrum - the loss of Dan Cole is a body blow to England's scrum coach Graeme Rowntree. David Wilson is a fabulous replacement to have but is short of match fitness and Henry Thomas has a lot to learn, so from a position of strength, which the scrum could have been for England, John Plumetree will be asking Cian Healy and Ireland to target the England scrum. They will do so not just from a technical point of view but also from a psychological point of view. Two years ago Ireland were embarrassed by how England dismantled them at scrum time, this weekend, through Cole's absence, it could well be the starting point for Ireland's stand.

2.       Kicking game – expect Joe Schmidt to ask Johnny Sexton to do exactly the same to England as he did to Wales and pepper England's rookie wings who are tight and narrow defensively leaving Mike Brown lots of room to cover at the back. Ireland will not kick the ball down Mike's throat because they know it will come back with interest, instead they will target the space in behind England's wings. Every defence has a weakness, England's is this and Joe Schmidt is too smart a man to get his players to run into the brick wall that is England and will ask Johnny Sexton to turn England with kicks into space.

3.       Stopping England's power runners – England have big runners that are continuously coming around the corner in attack running off Danny Care but Ireland (and Irish sides in general) have always caused English teams issues at the breakdown. Les Kiss, Ireland's defence coach, will employ two types of tackle; firstly they will chop tackle, i.e. go for the legs, and the next man in will target the ball. The first few phases that Wales held the ball against Ireland two weeks ago in Dublin set the template for that game. First George North was hit low by Andrew Trimble and then Paul O'Connell put in a leg tackle which allowed Peter O'Mahony in over the ball to steal it, expect more of the same defensive sets. The other tackle Ireland will employ is the choke tackle, here Kiss will get Irish players to hold English players up off the ground if they are isolated one off runners, turning into a maul from which the ball cannot come back and thus giving Ireland the scrum put in. It is a frustrating law but one which Ireland are the masters at affecting.

How can England counter-act this from Ireland, well the game sounds simple but Stuart Lancaster and Andy Farrell will be working all week on firstly winning the collisions but also on England's rucking and in particular, identifying and clearing a threat.

4.       Ireland's maul – Again John Plumtree has the Ireland pack mauling really well and if they can force lineouts in attacking areas it is a real threat for Ireland. In a strange way England's perceived strength up front may well be an area that Ireland look to exploit. Joe Schmidt knows the threat Danny Care will be off quick taps and tempo, he knows Owen Farrell can control the game, he knows the pace and counter-attacking ability of Mike Brown, Johnny May et al so don't be surprised if it is where everyone believes is England's greatest strength is the area that Joe Schmidt looks to go for.

It will be one of the great Six Nations games as both teams and both sets of coaches have so much to offer. The loss of Cole makes the game even tighter to call and in Joe Schmidt I think Stuart Lancaster and his coaching staff face the best coach they have yet to face and one who will have his team prepared better than any other.

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