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Dublin: 5 °C Sunday 15 December, 2019
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Keyboard Warriors: Rugby bloggers of Ireland and England talk it out

We rolled out the digestives and got G-Chatting about choke tackles, chariots, impact off the bench… and James Haskell.

Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

IT’S THE OLDEST international rivalry in rugby, so what better place than ye olde internet to set the scene?

We asked JL Pagano of HarpinOnRugby to represent our fair people of the emerald isle while the villain was played by Lee Calvert of BloodandMud.com.

Once the shirt-grappling ended (and a stern Nigel Owens style talking to was dolled out) it turned into an amiable chat….

TheScore.ie: So let’s start with that Ireland team, then. Relief that it’s unchanged?

HarpinOnRugby:  Very much so, I just hope D’Arcy is fully recovered because we’ll need at least 60 mins of him & BOD at centre.

BloodAndMud: I think Kidney has had probably one of his easiest selection meetings ever this week after the performance against Wales.

I think the midfield will decide this game actually, and I doubt that the Irish centres will get the run of the park they had at Cardiff last week.

England team has been announced. As expected, including a start for Haskell, the unflushable turd of international rugby.

HarpinOnRugby:  Whatever about Ireland’s problems replacing Mike Ross at 3, what to do when we need to replace 12 became something of a problem in Cardiff.

TheScore.ie: Not such an easy selection for Lancaster, that centre partnership the right one, Lee?

BloodAndMud: If Manu was fit, then I’d have him and 12Trees every time.  Barritt is honest and decent enough, but not a game breaker.  However, Manu’s is not match ready, but him coming off the bench on 60 mins could be one of the better impact subs.

HarpinOnRugby: Yes England certainly have plenty of weaponry on the bench…Hartley, Lawes & Manu can all have an impact. I agree, the Irish centres certainly won’t have things their own way.  As usual it will all come down to the speed of ball available.

BloodAndMud: Agreed, and that is one of my primary gripes with Ben Youngs, he is often ponderous in getting it away from ruck, and when he does decide to get it away he steps before passing.

Lawes has been a shadow of himself of late, but we hope he can go well this week.

HarpinOnRugby: We’ve had our own quick ball issues with Murray, but like Youngs he doesn’t mind taking it himself and can be effective when he does. What strikes me about this English setup isn’t so much the selection but the understated way they’re approaching the game. Lancaster has done well to keep them below the radar.

BloodAndMud: That’s the best thing about what is happening under Lancaster, JL.  For years being and England fan was a soul splintering misery as whoever was selected we were playing backward, stupid rugby, at least now it’s looking like we have a plan that makes sense and picking the players, like 12trees, to make it work.

I like Murray, he’s looks a decent incumbent for a few years to come.  And of course then there’s Sexton, who despite having the face of a low-level drug dealer has become quite the player.

HarpinOnRugby: Ha! well that description of Sexton certainly puts him at the opposite end of the scale to the squeaky-clean “top four player in the world” Farrell he goes up against on Sunday!

For me, England should be considered favourites for this 6N even with trips to Dublin & Cardiff to come.

J-Sex; we always thought he was more of a Capo Regime. (Credit INPHO.)

BloodAndMud: I think we can’t decide favourites until after Sunday.  Whoever wins that game will win it.

Many people, including me, have had a pop at Farrell and his limited play, but It’s easy to forget that Farrell is still only 20.

HarpinOnRugby:  Absolutely.  He had a mare from the kicking tee against Munster but in general he has shown an incredible consistency for his age at the highest level.

Are you happy with Tom Youngs starting hooker, or would you prefer Dylan starting?

BloodAndMud: Other than Rory Best, there is a dearth of good hookers in Britain & Ireland at the minute, so I see hartley and T Youngs as about the same in terms of they’re both OK in ability.  However, Youngs can lose his head and more worryingly his throwing arm even at home, so it’s a worry what a Dublin crowd may do to him.

TheScore.ie: England have been amazing, then impressive in their most recent games. But they’re away from Twickenham now. How will that effect these young faces?

HarpinOnRugby: Wont be a bother to the Irish youngsters Gilroy & Zebo that’s for sure.  They have slotted in seamlessly to the Irish set up and what’s more they’re being included in the attacking plan, something that doesn’t always happen when someone steps up.

BloodAndMud: I don’t think England have been amazing, more that they’ve put together a squad and a gameplan that finally makes sense.  The NZ result was a freak and good for confidence, particularly in the forwards, but I don’t read too much into it beyond that.

Zebo is great, and not because of the flick kick thing vs Wales, more that, as you say he looks born to this level of rugby.

HarpinOnRugby:  Agree. The flick was “one of those things”. but he is certainly a try-scoring machine and is working with a good backline to create the space for him.

BloodAndMud:: You can’t overstate what a benefit coming through at Munster with their winning culture and consistent playing in the Heineken Cup is for players like Zebo.  I can’t stand Munster, but I give them their due.

HarpinOnRugby:  Another key element of this contest for me will be the communication between the skippers an the ref Garces. This could be Jamie Heaslip’s first major challenge as Ireland skipper

BloodAndMud: who is the ref?  I’ve not looked

HarpinOnRugby:  Jerome Garces…Leinster had him for our match against the Scarlets in the HCup and he was reluctant to go to his pocket.

BloodAndMud: Will the players follow Heaslip like they did BOD?  I hear rumours he can be an awkward sod at times.

England will just be hoping that after last year, any ref gives them a good crack in the scrum.  What chances that demolition job happening again?

HarpinOnRugby:  I get the impression that BOD may not be the team captain but he’s still the team leader. Seemed to be him that made the decision to kick for touch at the end of the first half in Cardiff and we got an extra three points out of it. Still, with Robshaw around the rucks it’s handy for us to have our official captain there too.

Re: the scrums, that’s why I was surprised Hartley didn’t start.  He seems to be the best guy to make things happen.

For us, last year happened because we didn’t have an adequate TH to replace Ross when he went off. In many ways, we still don’t, so we’ll be sweating on him at least lasting 70 minutes…. though I wont hold my breath on that!

BloodAndMud: I don’t see why Ross can’t last the game.  Players are fitter and better conditioned than ever but the use of replacements automatically is rife, regardless of how a player is looker fitness or form wise.  It’s a particular bugbear of mine – that and how poor alignment is in the backs. Don’t get me started on that…

HarpinOnRugby: Well lets just say I don’t expect Ross to see much of the ball or to make many tackles this Sunday!

Has any one anything nice to say about James Haskell? … let’s move on.   Adam Davy/PA Wire/Press Association Images

TheScore.ie: Lee, you made your feelings on Haskell clear above. Do you think he’ll be a weakness or is it just his personality? His selection doesn’t really inspire much fear over here.

HarpinOnRugby: Haskell will put himself about but I have to say I’m delighted Morgan wont be there.  He ran riot against us last season and is an awesome 8.

BloodAndMud: He’s nothing more than an average player.  He has no impact off the bench and despite his pace his carrying is shocking and his ruck skills are appalling.  That, plus his endless self promotion, means I detest him and you are right that Ireland should not fear him at all.

HarpinOnRugby: How do you think England will fare against our “choke tackle”. We used it to good effect in Cardiff, it should be something Lancaster will be looking to negate…

BloodAndMud: Very well I hope, it’s the most talked about tactic in world rugby and yet Wales didn’t seem to have a plan for it, which was astounding.  If Andy Farrell has not been working on drills for it then he should be sacked.

HarpinOnRugby: …and in Ryan, McCarthy, SOB & even Sexton we have great proponents of it.

BloodAndMud: As long as you don’t get too isolated it should be fine. So getting players running in pods and not running away from your support, and clearing out is the key to negating it as far as I see.

In other words, rucking basics.

HarpinOnRugby:  Yes, should be a fascinating battle at the breakdown – like I say it will be interesting to see what ref focuses on, if anything!

TheScore.ie: Is the breakdown (or Garces’ view of it) the single most important factor in this game, ahead of the scrum?

HarpinOnRugby: Overall I can see this game going similarly to that in Cardiff, but I don’t see an early Irish lead being anywhere near as big.

I think it could be Sean, especially late in the match.  I have a fear that we’ll ship a lot of penalties in the final quarter which Farrell’s boot will exploit.

BloodAndMud:  Agree with JL there. Sexton kicked well last week, but of the two kickers he’s the most likely to lose the plot, and Farrell is metronomic.

Put a number on it

HarpinOnRugby: My “official” prediction is England by two, but it really is too close to call, and at least one of the teams is bound to be cursing the ref more than usual come Sunday evening!

TheScore.ie Score predictions please, gentlemen.

HarpinOnRugby: Ire 21-23 Eng is what my head is telling me. My heart isn’t impressed.

BloodAndMud: In all honesty, I want England to win obviously, but the main thing I want to see is them building on the approach that they are putting together.  We have to play the long game here.

Score prediction, I can’t call it.  But neither team will win by more than three.  The bookies have them both as evens for the win, which tells you something.

TheScore.ie:  Looks like we’ll have to wait until near 5pm Sunday to get a clearer picture.

HarpinOnRugby: Absolutely! Great game for the neutral, the three of us wont have any nails left I reckon!

BloodAndMud:  I’ll be pissed by then so I’m not sure how clear anything will be!

To see just how intoxicated BloodAndMud becomes or how much of HarpinOnRugby’s fingernails get chewed (along with some tweets about rugby and stuff). Follow them on Twitter here and here.

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Sean Farrell

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