Billy Stickland/INPHO
expert view

‘The English are arrogant. But to be arrogant you have to be good. They’ll beat Ireland’

After two weeks of the tournament, we ask a team of experts to assess how this Six Nations season is going for Ireland.

Given that Ireland have got off to an unbeaten start is a grand slam on the cards?

Eddie O’Sullivan (Ireland coach 2001-08) Everything depends on what happens at Twickenham. Win against England and I’ve no doubt Ireland can finish the job off. It’s quite possible they will do it too, the absence of Billy Vunipola being critical to England’s poor performances so far. England at the moment are not the same England we saw at the World Cup. They’re vulnerable and they know it.

Fiona Coughlan (Ireland’s grand slam captain 2013) Coming into this season, a grand slam may not have been on the eyeline of too many people but there has been such a sizable improvement from week one to two that there is every reason to be positive. Even if going to Twickenham is such a colossal task – heightened by the return from injury of Manu Tuilagi – the evidence of the last week is that the game-plan is certainly in place to put it up to them. We have the quality of player to beat England.

englands-billy-vunipola England are missing Billy Vunipola through an injury. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

David Corkery (Irish player of the tournament at 1995 World Cup) My gut reaction is to say no, that both France and England will have too much for Ireland and will win by 10-12 points. England have a stronger bench, and home advantage is such a big thing in this tournament.

Another thing to consider is that England are arrogant. But to be arrogant, you need to be good. England are that. You don’t destroy the All Blacks, don’t reach a World Cup final unless you have something about you. They’ll be too strong on the day.

Bernard Jackman (former Ireland international and former coach of Dragons and Grenoble) I’d say it’s unlikely that Ireland will end up with a slam but the championship is certainly there to be won. They’re in a good place.

Would you make any changes to the Irish team for Twickenham?

Eddie O’Sullivan At this point, the answer has to be no. The time to experiment was the first couple of

jordan-larmour-scores-a-try Gary Carr / INPHO Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

games. You don’t tinker with things heading to Twickenham. It’s hard to build momentum in this tournament so once you’ve got it, you keep it.

Fiona Coughlan There will probably be a couple of conversations around Dave Kilcoyne and Caelan Doris, although the mitigating factors against starting Kilcoyne is based around the fact he probably offers more of an impact than Cian Healy would from the bench. I’d love to see Doris get his chance but it would be quite a statement to start someone in Twickenham who has only four minutes international experience under his belt, especially when you consider how well CJ Stander has played at No8 over the last two weeks. Elsewhere, Conor Murray has stepped up to another level in the past week, answering his critics. If everyone who started against Wales is fit, I wouldn’t make any changes.

caelan-doris-goes-off-injured Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

David Corkery I’d not shy away from making at least three changes – John Cooney for Conor Murray, not because Conor is a bad player, simply because Cooney is better than him at the moment. This selection comes back to everything you teach kids, that if you work hard and do well then you’ll get your chance in life. Well, Cooney deserves that chance.

So too does Dave Kilcoyne, who for me was Ireland’s best player in the World Cup. He’s dynamic, quick and if we are going to pick a form XV, then he has to be in it.

Similarly, I’d go for Caelan Doris ahead of Peter O’Mahony. You have the value of using O’Mahony off the bench then.

Bernard Jackman You can’t change a winning side. Healy has done enough although I’d love to see Kilcoyne get a start against Italy and fear he may be pigeon-holed as an impact player, simply because he has been so effective in his cameos off the bench.

What do you make of the job Andy Farrell has done so far?

Eddie O’Sullivan They’re moving in the right direction and if they were to beat England that would be an impressive achievement for a new head coach.

Fiona Coughlan He has made subtle and clever tweaks. Naming the team on a Tuesday is a real statement of faith in his players and his game-plan. By doing this, he is essentially saying to the opposition – ‘this is what we’re about, we’re not afraid of anything’. Other tweaks, the lengthening of the warm-up, the shortening of the Monday morning review, appear to have relaxed the squad.

He has a tough job, because while there is a clamour for change and to build for 2023, the reality is that a good Six Nations is needed for Ireland’s seeding at the next World Cup, and from a financial point of view, a strong finish in the Six Nations is vital in terms of financing every strand of the game in Ireland. So far, he’s done well.

andy-farrell-speaks-to-the-team Farrell speaks to the team at training today. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

David Corkery Watching Ireland under Joe Schmidt was like watching rugby by numbers. What I mean by that is that everything was about the percentages, everything low risk. If you didn’t do what was on the playbook then you were lambasted. So, when things started to go wrong in the World Cup, Ireland were unable to change because they weren’t allowed to change.

Farrell has granted leeway to Murray, Sexton and Larmour but has not made too many other alterations – which in a way makes sense, because if you change too much too soon then mistakes will happen. Look, after two games you have to say it’s working well so far.

Bernard Jackman He has really impressed me, rebuilding the team’s confidence, empowering the players and evolving an exciting style of play.

Given Ireland’s unbeaten start, England’s inconsistency and the matches up ahead, what would represent an acceptable season for Ireland at this stage?

Eddie O’Sullivan Four wins would be a good championship.

Fiona Coughlan They won’t be thinking past the England game. At the start of the season a win at Twickenham would have been viewed as against the odds. Now, they’ll be confident.

David Corkery I would have said three home wins beforehand – and now, two games in, I still think that is as good as it will get for us. England and France will both have 10 points on us. Ireland will beat Italy who don’t deserve to be in the competition.

Bernard Jackman Three good performances in addition to the two wins thus far would be acceptable.

Do England suffer from Eddie Jones’ selection chaos?

Eddie O’Sullivan It unsettles the team, irritates the players and leaves fellas looking over their shoulder. They need to rediscover the swagger we saw from them in Japan. A World Cup hangover seems apparent.

eddie-jones-with-george-ford-and-owen-farrell Jones with Owen Farrell and George Ford. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Fiona Coughlan He still doesn’t know what his best team should be and from the outside you get the distinct impression they don’t know where they stand with him. The experiment of playing Curry at No8 hasn’t worked too effectively – and it’s clear the absence of Billy Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi for their opening couple of fixtures had a hugely negative impact on the entire game-plan, stopping them from getting front-foot ball.

David Corkery In a strange sort of way, I like Eddie. He’s different. Warren Gatland was like that. I remember Warren telling us to plaster our legs with fake tan because it’d make us look fitter. Well, Eddie is one level above Warren on the quirky scale. He has a smart rugby brain, and is prepared to take risks which you need to do to reach the highest level of the game. England got to a World Cup final under him, under this selection chaos. You can’t ignore that.

Bernard Jackman Eddie Jones is at his most effective when he is working off a long-term plan, so you have to wonder how much he has been side-tracked by the fact he has just a two-year contract. He probably needs to settle things down a little but look, if Billy Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi hadn’t been injured, we’d probably be having a different conversation.

Should Ireland be worried about the French or are they over-hyped?

Eddie O’Sullivan A soft underbelly is still apparent there. When things go wrong, familiar traits often come out. England got a run on them in the second half and a little panic kicked in; Italy should have been put away a lot earlier but instead France allowed them to fight back into it. What happens if they have to fight their way out of a problem against Wales or Ireland? I’m not so sure they’ll be able to.

romain-ntamack-celebrates Romain Ntamack celebrates the win over England. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Fiona Coughlan We’ll reserve judgement on that one until we see what they do away from home. While settling on the Romain Ntamack/Antoine Dupont half-back pairing has clearly had a positive impact on them, the question remains whether they have gone too heavily with youth. We’ve yet to see this newly shaped young team play away from home, yet to see them chase a game. How will they react when they have to do that? Will their decision making be affected?

David Corkery If we had a 20-year-old out-half, would we put him in? Not in a million years. But France’s attitude is to play him. They’re right too, Ntamack has been the best out-half in the tournament so far and it’s scary to think how good he’ll be in four-years-time. They’ll be ready for that tournament. Will we be? I doubt it.

We brought a 37-year-old as captain to the last World Cup and while I think Johnny Sexton is the best out-half we’ve ever produced, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’ll still get a start when he’s old enough to be in a wheelchair. We need to take a leaf out of France’s book and invest more in youth.

Bernard Jackman They’re the coming team, France. There’s more organisation about them than we’ve seen in a decade or more. Having said that, they are a long way off winning this year’s Six Nations.

Bernard Jackman joins Garry Doyle and Gavan Casey for a big chat about Men’s, Women’s and U20s Six Nations, while Andrew Conway gives an update on his uncertain future

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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