A rejuvenated Ireland will hope to continue their fine form against England at Croke Park, writes Conor Farrell.
Though a spectacle like that witnessed two years ago is unlikely, the next round of the Six Nations gives Ireland another chance to stamp their authority over England at Croke Park.
As well as taking on a rejuvenated Ireland, as well as the weight of history, England appear in poor form. Their opening joust with the Italians answered few questions, seemingly taking advantage of an erratic and poorly chosen Italian side.
However, in the wake of their boisterous and dynamic display against Wales, a game they could have won had they shown more discipline, Sunday’s test is all but a foregone conclusion. England gifted Wales penalty after penalty and were punished consistently by Stephen Jones who kicked all five of his attempts.
This 18 point tally could easily be eliminated and would have made all the difference to them last Sunday. For this reason and the fact that the English pack seemed to dominate the normally strong Welsh forwards for most
of the game suggest that Sunday will be a harder game for Ireland than many are making it out to be. Martin Johnson will be acutely aware that Ronan O’Gara, like Jones, will not be profligate if presented shots at goal. O’Gara’s class sums up the difference between the two sides, as it would appear at the moment.
The Munster outhalf continues to press his claims as a potential Lions ten, while England frantically tries to find an answer to their problems behind the scrum, with Danny Cipriani seemingly not being the answer. Position by position it seems Ireland will have the advantage in the pack and most of the back line. Perhaps it is at scrum half that Johnson has something to work with. England’s rush defence seems to call for the quick delivery of Peter Stringer. The reason for this is simple; the evidence from the Italian game particularly in an abysmal first half, added to a growing feeling that Thomas O’Leary’s distribution from the breakdown is unsuitable when dealing
with this type of defence.
“The Munster outhalf continues to press his claims as a potential Lions ten, while England frantically tries to find an answer to their problems behind the scrum, with Danny Cipriani seemingly not being the answer”
The strings on O’Leary’s bow are many, particularly in broken play where he thrives and though he is a favourite of Kidney’s from their Munster days, Stringer’s more typical style is the correct choice for this match, if not for the longer time.
The other area of uncertainty is in the position of inside centre. One must feel a little empathy for Paddy Wallace, it is unfortunate that finally when he is given a chance his face is cut open two matches in a row and he’s taken off the pitch. Empathy however doesn’t last long as the magic of Gordon D’Arcy makes him an irresistible option. Only a few minutes on the pitch against France and he showed us why he was so sorely missed and why he was awarded the 2004 player of the tournament. His explosiveness only seven metres from the French line saw him power and spin around three French defenders with unparalleled leg strength driving him over for a breathtaking try.
Strength in the backs will be key, as the places from which the English could threaten have become quite evident after the Welsh match. That threat is in the form of Paul Sackey, Riki Flutey and Delon Armitage. These three backs have been so impressive in the Guinness Premiership and in the Six Nations so far that they must be watched and intimidated early, O’Driscoll is more than a match for Flutey and will hit him solidly the first chance he gets.
Kearney is superior to Armitage or at least that is how it would seem so far. The interesting match up is how will Luke Fitzgerald face up to the winger who has statistically beaten the most defenders in the Heineken Cup this year? His containment job on the flying French back three gives him good pedigree.
So with their main attacking forces nullified what will England do? They’ll do what they always do, try to bash forwards up the ten channel at O’Gara, though Stephen Ferris will hope to put a stop to that. After that it’s up to Ireland to attack the English form every possible angle and earn the win they need to continue the Grand Slam hopes of a nation. Few encounters capture the nation quite like clashes with England. We’ve been spoilt and perhaps given a false optimism by the outlandish result two years ago, but a win, albeit less convincing, seems in the pipeline.