Caelan Doris and Tadhg Beirne at Twickenham. Dan Sheridan/INPHO
step four

Logic suggests Ireland will have too much quality for this English team

England boss Steve Borthwick believes his team have a plan to halt the Grand Slam bid.

SUCH HAS BEEN the focus on Ireland trying to make it back-to-back Grand Slams, it has almost been overlooked that Andy Farrell’s side can wrap up a Six Nations title by winning with a bonus point against England at Twickenham today [KO 4.45pm, RTÉ].

Yes, we’ve quickly reached the point where a championship crown, just Ireland’s sixth of the Six Nations era, would be taken for granted. There are high expectations of this team and in fairness, Farrell’s men always aim for the stars.

They’re firm favourites to keep the Grand Slam bid on track into next weekend’s Super Saturday clash with Scotland in Dublin. Logic suggests that Ireland will win against an English side who would love to wreck the Irish plan.

Speaking of plans, Steve Borthwick and co. reckon they’ve got one that will be a spanner in the wheels of the Irish machine. The first key, he reckons, is to disrupt the Irish kicking game led by James Lowe’s cannon of a left boot.

Secondly, his team need to nail their ball-carrying and attacking breakdown skills, denying Ireland turnovers they can thrive off.

And thirdly, England have to be one of the very few sides who have shut down the clever, cohesive Irish attack.

What Borthwick didn’t mention is the probable intention to lay siege on the Irish lineout and scrum, although Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony did mention that yesterday after a run-out at Twickenham with his team-mates.

Borthwick has picked three locks – Maro Itoje, George Martin, and Ollie Chessum – in his starting XV to go at the lineout, while loosehead prop Ellis Genge has had success at the scrum against Ireland before. 

Irishman Felix Jones is the man tasked with leading the defensive part of England’s plan. The initial chat when he agreed to join England was that he’d be in charge of their attack but he is now three games into a new role as the English defence coach. He has completely revamped their system, bringing in the trademark Springboks linespeed.

steve-borthwick Steve Borthwick with his England players. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

There have been positive results, with plenty of turnovers forced, but also some obvious teething issues as the English players have had to get to grips with very different demands in many cases. Ireland’s attack thrives when high linespeed defences make poor reads so it goes without saying that Jones’ charges need to be at a new level of accuracy.

When it comes to precision, Borthwick will be glad his leading scrum-half Alex Mitchell is back from injury and it’s timely that the powerful second row Martin comes into the starting XV. Anyone who saw Martin’s physical effort in the World Cup semi-final against South Africa last year knows what he can do, so his match-up against Ireland’s new enforcer, Joe McCarthy, should be riveting.

The third change to the England team that lost to Scotland last time out is the introduction of the livewire Immanuel Feyi-Waboso on the right wing. He scored a dynamic, intuitive try against the Scots and has impressed in an aggressive defensive system at Exeter this season.

Much reference has been made to England running the Springboks so close in that World Cup semi-final last year, but there have been quite a few changes since. Owen Farrell, Freddie Steward, Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May, and Joe Marchant aren’t involved, while Joe Marler and Elliot Daly are on the bench today.

That’s a hefty turnover of players which partly explains why England haven’t been convincing in this Six Nations. This team has been in desperate need of continuity in selection for years now but it seems to be hard to come by in English rugby.

Ireland are the extreme contrast. Even with new faces like Jack Crowley, McCarthy, and Calvin Nash impressing, the level of connection is world-leading. As Borthwick pointed out enviously, 15 of Ireland’s matchday 23 play for Leinster. They know each other inside out and the whole Irish system is designed to make Ireland competitive.

ciaran-frawley Ciarán Frawley at Twickenham yesterday. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Ireland’s form is far better, they have a settled team full of players who are among the best in their position in the world, their attack has been too good for most defences, their defence has shut down most attacks, their kicking game has been outstanding, and Farrell’s 6/2 bench split is an imposing weapon to call on. While the set-piece has had wobbles, there have been strong days too.

Georgian referee Nika Amashukeli is likely to have his hands full and Ireland will be cognisant that their discipline is one area that definitely needs to improve.

While O’Mahony said Ireland will face a massive defensive test due to England’s power game, there haven’t been many worrying signs from the English attack in this championship. Against Scotland, their basic catching and passing was damagingly poor.

There has been much debate about the atmosphere at the Aviva Stadium and the same is true of Twickenham. For that reason, England need to give their fans something to roar about early on. If it’s Ireland who make the strong start, a restlessness will kick in.

There’s no doubt that England are the underdogs and while every dog has its day, Ireland will be too good if they play up to their potential. Farrell called for his team to be ruthless and it could be a very tough day for the English if these Irish players sink their teeth in.


  • 15. George Furbank
  • 14. Immanuel Feyi-Waboso
  • 13. Henry Slade
  • 12. Ollie Lawrence
  • 11. Tommy Freeman
  • 10. George Ford
  • 9. Alex Mitchell
  • 1. Ellis Genge
  • 2. Jamie George (captain)
  • 3. Dan Cole
  • 4. Maro Itoje
  • 5. George Martin
  • 6. Ollie Chessum
  • 7. Sam Underhill
  • 8. Ben Earl


  • 16. Theo Dan
  • 17. Joe Marler
  • 18. Will Stuart
  • 19. Chandler Cunningham-South
  • 20. Alex Dombrandt
  • 21. Danny Care
  • 22. Marcus Smith
  • 23. Elliot Daly


  • 15. Hugo Keenan
  • 14. Calvin Nash
  • 13. Robbie Henshaw
  • 12. Bundee Aki
  • 11. James Lowe
  • 10. Jack Crowley
  • 9. Jamison Gibson-Park
  • 1. Andrew Porter
  • 2. Dan Sheehan
  • 3. Tadhg Furlong
  • 4. Joe McCarthy
  • 5. Tadhg Beirne
  • 6. Peter O’Mahony (captain)
  • 7. Josh van der Flier
  • 8. Caelan Doris


  • 16. Rónan Kelleher
  • 17. Cian Healy
  • 18. Finlay Bealham
  • 19. Iain Henderson
  • 20. Ryan Baird
  • 21. Jack Conan
  • 22. Conor Murray
  • 23. Ciarán Frawley

Referee: Nika Amashukeli [Georgia].

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel