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Dublin: 9°C Thursday 22 April 2021

Ireland will beat England this Sunday and here are the reasons why

Ireland may have been destroyed on their last visit to Twickenham but momentum is now on their side.

Johnny Sexton celebrates at Twickenham two years ago.
Johnny Sexton celebrates at Twickenham two years ago.
Image: Inpho/Billy Stickland

THE LAST TIME they met, it was a humiliation, the game before a mere embarrassment. By the time they reached Japan, the gulf between these teams was wider than the Irish Sea; England outclassing the All Blacks in the World Cup semis, a week after New Zealand had defeated Ireland by 32 points in the quarters.

So who’s going to win this time? The team who put a half-century on Ireland in August, seven months after beating them 32-20 in the opening round of the 2019 Six Nations. No, despite their impressive credentials, there are compelling reasons why it’ll be England, rather than Ireland, who will lose this Sunday. Here’s eight of them.

1: Momentum shifts

They may have been a team which travelled to the World Cup final on a tide of rampant patriotism and unbounded aspiration but unfortunately for England, the Springboks didn’t get around to reading the memo instructing them to be fall-guys.

makazole-mapimpi-sbusiso-nkosi-and-lukhanyo-am-celebrates South Africa didn't read the memo saying England were meant to win. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

And so England, seemingly unbeatable England, didn’t raise a gallop against South Africa, a week after they had demolished New Zealand – who, a week earlier, had torn Ireland’s challenge to shreds.

If anything, it’s a recurring theme. This time last year, remember, Ireland arrived into the Six Nations fresh from their own big victory over the All Blacks, The Times producing a feature which said only two English players would get a place in the Ireland team. Yet England won.

Fast forward to today’s reversed roles, England coming into this game with home advantage and an All Blacks scalp but minus all the momentum they’d built in Japan. They were awful for 60 minutes in Paris, merely mediocre in Edinburgh.

In contrast, Ireland are two from two. Never mind last year, this weekend is what matters.

2: No Billy, no Mako – no front foot ball

It was less of a warm-up game, more like a wake-up call. Unfortunately, Ireland didn’t hear the alarm and went sleep-walking into the World Cup and a Japanese ambush, followed by an All Blacks thumping.

But prior to their World Cup quarter-final exit, there was another massacre, this one at Twickenham in August, as first Billy Vunipola, then Manu Tuilagi and latterly, Joe Cokanasiga marched right through the Irish defence, helping England post 54 points.

englands-billy-vunipola-is-tackled-by-irelands-rory-best Billy Vunipola on the charge against Ireland. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

There and then, you just simply couldn’t have made a case for Ireland returning to Twickenham in the same season and winning. Except the circumstances are different now. Cokanasiga and Billy Vunipola are injured; Mako has also withdrawn from the panel. 

Suddenly, the landscape has changed somewhat. England aren’t bringing the same equipment to this scrap, Tom Curry being a poor impersonator of Billy, although the overnight news about Tuilagi’s improved chances of recovering in time to play against Ireland, is encouraging from an English perspective. Even so, they still have other problems.

3: On a wing and a prayer

Heading into the World Cup final, England – for the first time in the Eddie Jones era – had a settled team. All the planets appeared to align. And then they lost. That defeat to South Africa has haunted Jones since, as have injuries. Jack Nowell and Anthony Watson are gone; the experiment of using Elliot Daly as a full-back has ended, George Furbank getting his chance there.

You don’t need to scroll through YouTube to know what is coming next. Put it this way, as soon as Johnny Sexton gets anywhere near the English 22, match commentators are going to be scrambling through their notes to revisit Chris Martin’s first-half meltdown in 1985, Watson’s in 2018.

History has shown English full-backs are allergic to the Irish Garryowen, and even the relocation of Daly from No15 to the wing has not helped him regain confidence in the air.

josh-adams-claims-a-high-ball-ahead-of-elliot-daly-to-score-a-try Josh Adams outjumps Elliot Daly to score a crucial try last year. Source: Andrew Fosker/INPHO

And yet it isn’t just the skies where England’s problems lie. In their last six games, they’ve had four different centre partnerships and three different partners for Maro Itoje in the second row. The tinkering extends to three different back-row combinations being used in their last three outings against Scotland, France and South Africa.

All this change is having a negative impact. Moving Tom Curry to No8 is a perfect case study in robbing Peter to pay Paul, England’s back-row lacking the authority and balance it possessed in the World Cup.

Their scrum-half issue – Ben Youngs being poor in Paris, Willi Heinz even worse in Murrayfield – is another problem.

One area where they aren’t struggling is at loose-head, Mako’s unfortunate absence compensated by the form of Ellis Genge and Joe Marler. Still, all those other positional issues are enough to unsettle any team. And that’s before we mention Salarycens.

4: Who is Sarrie now?

Forget the spin, the loving words issued by Jonny May on the eve of the Six Nations, when England’s squad had a peace and reconciliation meeting to discuss the fall-out from the Saracens issue. Instead, the thoughts of Dylan Hartley – the former England captain, seem much more relevant. “Ignorance and arrogance,” was Hartley’s summation of Saracens’ behaviour in breaching the salary cap.

england-line-up-for-the-national-anthem-dylan-hartley Former England captain Dylan Hartley. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

You can’t pretend this isn’t affecting the team, the six Saracens players in the squad waking up on a daily basis wondering where they will be employed next year, knowing that certain relegation awaits.

Jamie George has signalled his intention to stay because he ‘wants to keep the club afloat’. Will he be angry then if Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly, George Kruis or Ben Earl decide to leave? What kind of conversations are going on at the team dinner table?

Plus you have to wonder what the thoughts of the remaining 27 players are, especially the Exeter contingent who finished runners-up in the 2016, 2018 and 2019 Premierships? Jones has always said he wants his men to park their club rivalries at the door when they walk into England camp. Good luck with that idea.

5: Captain Farrell

Farrell — so fiery and competitive — is a wound-up bundle of frustration, barely in control of his emotions, let alone playing the on-field diplomat with authority. His ferocity is in many ways part of what makes Farrell the fine player he is, but it is a negative when he skippers a side. He is not a cool, calm captain, rather an out-and-out warrior. There is a role for him, but the evidence of his career as England’s leader suggests he would be better without the responsibility.”

These are Stuart Barnes’ words, written for The Times earlier this month. Johnny Sexton, in contrast, is thriving under the responsibility of leading the team out.

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6: Variety in Ireland’s game

Old stereotypes still exist in England. Here’s George Ford this week: “The stuff Ireland are notoriously good at — the contact stuff, the kicking game and in the air and the contest at the breakdown — is always going to be the biggest challenge against these guys.”

Here’s something else to think about. Johnny Sexton has kicked seven times from open play in this championship – in contrast Owen Farrell and George Ford have booted it on 36 occasions. Jordan Larmour has carried for more metres than anyone else in the tournament so far, CJ Stander and Bundee Aki joining him in the top five of this particular department.

jordan-larmour-makes-a-break In full flight: Larmour has carried for 257 metres in two games. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

That’s the spot Ireland are in right now. They have added a new weapon to their attacking armoury, knowing they can revert to type if the style of play they used against Wales doesn’t work.

7: Fast Eddie, never happy

Jones has already signalled his intention to bring a young team on the summer tour to Japan, so how do the five 29-year-olds in his squad, Mako Vunipola, Joe Marler, Jamie George, George Kruis and Jonny May feel about that? Probably better than 30-year-olds Courtney Lawes and Ben Youngs. As for poor old Willi Heinz, 33, he is probably wondering if the game in Murrayfield was his last time starting an international.

8: Ireland’s winning mentality

Yes, they were beaten up the last time they came to Twickenham and yes they were outplayed at the Aviva last February. Perhaps those scars have yet to heal. Or perhaps the following statistics are worth considering.

In 10 starts as an international player, Jordan Larmour has won nine times; in his 20 caps, Andrew Conway has tasted victory on 19 occasions; from his 10 appearances, Rob Herring has been on the winning team on nine occasions.

Get the picture?

Well, if you don’t, let’s apply some more paint. Jacob Stockdale has won 83 per cent of the Six Nations matches he has played; Bundee Aki’s figures, an 84 per cent win ratio, are slightly better. Still, we’ll go on. Robbie Henshaw has won 14 of his last 17 matches for Ireland, Johnny Sexton has won 22 of his last 26, Conor Murray 21 of his last 28.

Still need convincing that we aren’t sending a bunch of losers across the pond?

Cian Healy has 59 test wins on his international CV; Peter O’Mahony a mere 43. James Ryan has won 80 per cent of his matches for Ireland; Iain Henderson has a slightly better win ratio than Ryan across his last 24 internationals. Tadhg Furlong has played the All Blacks seven times, won three, drew one, lost three. CJ Stander has 16 wins under his belt across the last two international seasons, plus back-to-back man-of-the-match awards. That leaves Josh van der Flier: 11 games in the Six Nations, eight wins.

And Ireland are 10-point underdogs?

Tell those bookies to get up the yard.

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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