Friday, February 21, 2020

Preview : England v Ireland

graphic includes late change 
I don't think I've ever seen these levels of optimism among Irish fans heading into Twickenham, and that includes 2018 when I was running purely on green-goggled optimism in my preview saying we'd win by one point.

Time and time again over the past couple of weeks I have heard comments from different sources online and off saying this seems to be a team that can get a result over there.  And that is definitely good to see, especially when you consider how little it took to bring the doom in gloom before.

It certainly doesn't hurt that the English will be without the Vunipola  brothers (although naturally all our best wishes go out to their family in Tonga), nor that they have hardly set the tournament alight in their opening two matches.

On our side of things we managed nine points from ten available in the first two rounds, with our form on an upward curve despite a number of enforced changes of our own.  So it's not as though the optimism isn't justified, although the bookies' prediction of a 7-point home win serves as a reminder that there will be much work to be done to earn Andy Farrell a Triple Crown just three matches into his tenure.

For me, the weakest point in the English side has to be Ben Youngs at scrum half.  He even had a shocker when they did us at the Aviva last season and if we can turn up the heat on him early, it could give us some quality attacking positions.

On the performance front, great and all as CJ Stander has been we certainly can't rely on him turning in yet another gong-winning display.  That said, both of his back row team-mates O'Mahony and van der Flier have also been quality, and with Caelan Doris no doubt chomping at the bit to add to his eventful three minutes of test rugby, we have plenty to counter their quality at the breakdown.

Elsewhere England also have plenty of threats and our D will have to be at its best to keep out the likes of May, Tuilagi and of course Andy's offspring.  I always say it but our centres will be as key without the ball as with it, and I'm confident Messrs Aki and Henshaw are up to the task.  Using Joseph on the wing is an interesting move - we'll see how he is used though I'd say Andrew Conway is more than up to the task against him.

Naturally much depends on our approach and how Conor & Johnny carry it out.  Against Wales we went wide on the first possession and won ourselves a 5m scrum before all the fans had settled into their seats.  That doesn't mean exactly the same plan will work of course, but something that sows similar seeds of doubt might.

Much like the other changes we have seen from the original selection v Scotland, I really don't see Toner starting and Dillane being added to the bench having any kind of negative impact on our plan.  The fraction we'll lose in ball carrying will be added back in at lineout time and we certainly know what it's like to go to Twickenham with sub standard set pieces.

This match should be close.  It should be physical.  It should have a controversial moment or six throughout - while I'm not wild about knocking the ref before a ball has been kicked, I have scratched my head more than once at Jaco Peyper decisions before.  We need to find a level above that we have shown up to now, and I believe we can, so I'm going for a 2-4 point Irish win.

Bon voyage to all those travelling over; here's hoping I'm right!!! JLP

PS - as always, best wishes to the Women and Under 20s as well this weekend, and also to the provinces in Pro14 action.  Check out our Ospreys v Leinster preview here.


England : 15 Elliot Daly; 14 Jonny May, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jonathan Joseph; 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs
1 Joe Marler, 2 Jamie George, 3 Kyle Sinckler; 4 Maro Itoje, 5 George Kruis; 6 Courtney Lawes, 7 Sam Underhill, 8 Tom Curry.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Charlie Ewels, 21 Ben Earl, 22 Willi Heinz, 23 Henry Slade.

Guinness Six Nations 2020 - Round 3
Sunday, February 23, 2020
KO 3pm

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant 1: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant 2: Alexandre Ruiz (France)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019