Six Nations: Ireland poised to move up gears against England
Ireland's countdown to Sunday afternoon’s pivotal RBS 6 Nations Championship clash with England in Dublin began in earnest yesterday at Carton House.
Having had two days off following Saturday’s bruising 30-22 Millennium Stadium victory over Wales, they returned to work with the words of coach Declan Kidney ringing in their ears: “England will a very different challenge.”
The facts and figures suggest that not only will the challenge they offer be different — it promises to be a lot more difficult, too, home advantage notwithstanding.
From whatever angle one views the statistics from the opening weekend, Stuart Lancaster’s England team fared better than the side who will provide their opposition this Sunday.
They beat 38-18 Scotland, and in the course of that victory they enjoyed almost two-thirds of the possession, 62%. Ireland, in contrast, had to make do with 37% in Cardiff.
When it came to ball carries and the metres clocked up as a result, England’s figures dwarf those achieved by Ireland.
The English managed a staggering 153 carries and an even more impressive 597 metres made.
Against that, Jamie Heaslip-skippered Ireland’s stats pale altogether — just 76 carries yielding 210 metres.
Ireland managed just two line-breaks against Wales. In contrast, England rattled up 11 against Scotland.
The Irish tackling — in terms of the number made and the 89% success rate — was hailed, quite rightly, as the key factor in their win at the Millennium Stadium. But England matched that 89% level.
In addition, they fared significantly better, in scrum and line-out alike, than Ireland did in their set-pieces. England’s line-out was 86% successful and their scrum was a flawless 100%. Ireland’s success rates in those areas were 72% and 67% respectively.
Lancaster’s side scored four tries to Ireland’s three, winning that battle, too. And defensively, while the English conceded two tries, Ireland’s line was breached on three occasions.
Although both have two points following their opening weekend wins, England head the table by virtue of a superior for-against differential — 20 to Ireland’s eight.
All of that said, however, England were at home to opponents who were whitewashed in last season’s championship
and had a wretched autumnal run culminating in the departure of coach Andy Robinson who now has the dubious distinction of failing on both sides of the Anglo-Scots border.
Ireland’s task — away to last saeson’s Grand Slam winners — was a lot harder, not least because Wales had beaten them in each of the three previous matches and were further fired by the desire not to make history by becoming the first side representing the Principality to have lost five times on the trot on their own pitch.
So while it is impossible to make scientific like-for-like comparisons, one imagines few would dispute that Ireland beating Wales in Cardiff was a greater achievement than England seeing off Scotland at Twickenham.
In the wake of both teams’ wins on Saturday, Lancaster paid this weekend’s hosts the compliment of saying: “We will have to step up, without a doubt. Ireland are an outstanding side with quality players across the board.”
And recalling England’s last Six Nations visit to the Aviva Stadium — March 19, 2011 when they lost 24-8 — he warned the English players, media and public: “In Dublin two years ago we went on the back of four wins from four and came back with our tails between our legs.”
Under Lancaster, there were appear to be little likelihood of the supposed complacency or perceived arrogance which have besmirched some previous England sides.
Ireland will show nothing less than total and fully-merited respect for the English who went into last weekend’s Calcutta Cup romp on the back of November’s sensational 38-21 victory over World Cup holders, New Zealand, who had not lost any of their previous 20 matches.
Leinster loose-head Cian Healy’s take on Ireland’s showing against Wales — who outscored them 19-10 after the break — and the implications for this weekend was: “We laid off a bit too much in the second half.
“We have to go back to that and sort it out because it was too much of a let-off in the second half.
“But it’s a good start. We’re happy with that.”