EACH AND EVERY one of the Ireland Wolfhounds 23-man squad lining out against the England Saxons tomorrow evening [KO 5.00pm, Sky Sports 1] will feel that they can push their way into Six Nations contention.
However, individual focus won’t be tolerated for a second by coaching duo Anthony Foley and Neil Doak. There is a game to be won at Kingsholm, and these three match-ups could prove crucial.
Dave Ewers v Robin Copeland
This pair faced each other just last weekend, as Ewer’s Exeter Chiefs side pulled off a 19-13 win against the Cardiff Blues. The Englishman was used at blindside flanker that day, but returns to his natural No. 8 position for the Saxons. A powerful ball carrier with an insatiable appetite for making tackles, the 23-year-old will be important in ensuring any Saxons dominance.
Opposite Ewers is an even more explosive ball carrier, and a man who has been name-checked by coaches and squadmates alike as having made an impact at Ireland’s training camp in Maynooth this week. Robin Copeland has always been a unique athlete, but this season has seen his decision-making, skill levels and maturity take noteworthy leaps of improvement.
Freddie Burns v Ian Madigan
Two young men at very similar points in their still-developing careers. There are few doubts about the quality of attacking play and flair of Burns and Madigan, but questions have been raised about their ability to ‘manage’ games. By that, we refer to their skills in tactical decision-making: When do they kick? Where do they kick to/from? Where do they launch passing plays from? How do they break down rush defences? How do they exploit opposition weaknesses?
Burns stretches to score for England against Argentina last summer. Eduardo Di Baia/AP/Press Association Images.
23-year-old Burns has had an inconsistent season for Gloucester and is leaving the club in the summer, destined for a big test at Leicester. Madigan, 24, has had to watch on as Jimmy Gopperth has provided Leinster with high levels of solidity at out-half in the Heineken Cup, but his future lies with his native province for now.
Both out-halves will be asked to control matters for their teams and whoever does so more competently has much to gain.
Anthony Watson v Fergus McFadden
Watson and McFadden will not be playing directly opposite each other, as both start on the right win, but they will be important to their teams’ ability to make gains out wide. Watson possesses incredible acceleration and top-end speed, even if the 19-year-old has only scored one Premiership try so far this season with Bath. A future senior international for sure.
McFadden in Ireland colours last November. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland.
McFadden has recovered from a hand injury in time to showcase his own attacking talents, which are slightly less glamorous than Watson’s. That is not to say that the Leinster man is ineffective; nothing could be further from the truth. The 27-year-old was superb in the November Test series and Schmidt is a fan of his work-rate and incision. McFadden is possibly unfashionable, but that does not stop him from being an excellent player.
Ireland Wolfhounds: F Jones; F McFadden, R Henshaw, D Cave, C Gilroy; I Madigan, I Boss; D Kilcoyne, R Herring, M Moore; I Henderson, D Tuohy; R Ruddock (capt), T O’Donnell, R Copeland.
Replacements: R Strauss, J McGrath, S Archer, R Diack, J Murphy, K Marmion, I Keatley, S Zebo.
England Saxons: E Daly (Wasps); A Watson (Bath), M Hopper (Harlequins), S Hill (Exeter), C Sharples (Gloucester); F Burns (Gloucester), J Simpson (Wasps); A Waller (Northampton), J George (Saracens), T Mercey (Northampton); C Matthews (Harlequins), G Kruis (Saracens); C Clark (Northampton, capt), L Wallace (Harlequins), D Ewers (Exeter).
Replacements: D Ward (Harlequins), N Catt (Bath), S Wilson (Newcastle), E Stooke (Gloucester), S Dickinson (Northampton), D Lewis (Exeter), H Slade (Exeter), R Miller (Sale).
- Originally published 13.03