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Doris and the Irish pack keen to be 'ahead of the game' against Itoje and co.

The variety from Ireland’s forwards will be as important as ever.

Doris was at number eight against Italy.
Doris was at number eight against Italy.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THE LAST THREE visits to Twickenham for Ireland throw up a recurring image: English players smashing Irish ball-carriers in the tackle and forcing the Irish attack to live off scraps.

There are many subtleties that have gone into that theme but Ireland have had some pain in London.

Of course, their most recent memories against Eddie Jones’ side are good ones, having beaten them well in Dublin in last year’s Six Nations. Ireland are also a very different side to the ones that visited Twickenham the last three times.

They’re clearly not yet of the calibre of the Irish team that went there in 2018 and battered England with a mixture of brawn and brains, but Andy Farrell’s team will have a fair degree of self-belief ahead of Saturday’s contest with the English.

They know what’s coming again this weekend and Ireland’s forwards are determined to provide their backs with a better chance to attack.

“They’re obviously a massive linespeed team and will put a lot of defensive pressure on us,” says Ireland back row Caelan Doris.

“They have very good defensive forwards especially – Tom Curry, Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje, all their front rows are strong in that area so we’re definitely going to need to be on it.

“A big thing in the last few weeks is to take a bit more responsibility as forwards, organising each other, not leaving it all to the backs to give us the calls or the set-up.

caelan-doris-dejected-after-the-game Doris after Ireland's defeat at Twickenham in 2020. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“We’re trying to be a little bit ahead of the game in organising and getting into our twos and threes. That will be important again.”

Doris points out that Ireland’s forwards will also need to back their handling skills under pressure from the English defence.

He refers back to the November 2020 defeat to the English at Twickenham in the Autumn Nations Cup as an important lesson for himself and Ireland in that regard.

“Obviously there was no crowd but a big learning then was the ability to use our plus and minus options [the forwards on either side of the player in the middle of a pod of three forwards], clever tip-on passes on the line instead of just always trying to win the gainline yourself.

“So taking that learning forward, feeling a little bit more pressure sometimes and sometimes two men in your face instead of just one, having the skills to try and get a plus or a minus or an out-the-back ball is definitely going to be helpful.

“So having a few more strings rather than just carries, trying to keep getting better at the ability to offload or tip it just before contact if defenders are coming in, trying to use that as an advantage as well as obviously not getting as many carries as in the past.”

Ireland’s forwards taking responsibility is key, but it helps that their chief conductor is set to return in the number 10 shirt. Captain Johnny Sexton looks likely to be pulling the strings again on Saturday evening after coming off the bench against Italy last time out.

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caelan-doris-is-presented-with-the-man-of-the-match-award-by-johnny-sexton Doris with Ireland captain Johnny Sexton. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The 36-year-old had a new IRFU contract confirmed this week and Doris is delighted his Leinster team-mate is playing on.

“His ability to see things on the pitch is crazy really,” says Doris of Sexton. “It’s like he has a bird’s-eye view of everything.

“Whether it’s seeing only one man in a breakdown or your line of running over on the other side of the pitch to him, he seems to see everything and is able to feed it back. Just playing Italy was like having another coach on the pitch all the time.

“With me, he’s been big on lines of running, trying to be square, and not showing your hands too quickly in terms of if you are going to pass or going to carry – different things like that.

“Then what he does pre- and post-training is plan around how he is going to get better and work on different parts of his game. Bits and pieces around that area, so he’s been pretty helpful.”

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Murray Kinsella

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