All eyes will be on Dublin this evening. The English will be hoping to break records. The Irish will be looking to make amends. We will be looking to spoil the party. We did it against the All Blacks but can we do it again?
Playing for a record breaking nineteen straight wins, this English side are not short in confidence. Steamrolling a worn down Scotland last week, they brought their game to a new level. Eddie Jones has said his team will bring it to a higher level against Ireland. Crap. He loves this game. If England play to their best and Ireland to theirs, England will win. The big question is, can Ireland stop England from playing?
Quick line speed, a solid piece and success at the breakdown will be the foundation for an Irish victory. Target the playmaker axis of Youngs/Ford/Farrell and it’s half the battle. Ireland will need to be quick off the blocks to slow any quick ball from the English.
With Ireland’s line-out a weakness of late, it must function to have any chance in the game. I believe Schmidt, the cunning tactician, will have something up his sleeve. On the flip-side, the Brits boast a 100% line-out success rate this championship. It’s a major facet to the English attack and one where lock/flanker Maro Itoje has been sublime. At scrum-time the sides are evenly matched. Either front trio could start the Lions test. Both have set a high standard in this years Six Nations but I believe Ireland may just edge this battle.
With Henderson starting, I believe Schmidt has his eyes on the breakdown. Starting the Ulsterman, with the excellent back row, provides good options for ball turnover and retention at the ruck. I envisage Ireland picking up penalties on the deck. Referee Jerome Garces may perceive Ireland’s work at the breakdown positively. In Ireland’s November clash with Australia, we gave away three penalties to Australia’s thirteen. Some of the same this eve please.
As always, the half-backs need to be on point. As the Welsh successfully showed by targeting Murray and Sexton, Ireland’s chances were faltered. Injury prone Sexton will need a full game. His partnership with rookie Kieran Marmion will be interesting. Marmion provides quick ball which will be an asset to Ireland’s game. The English will look to target his inexperience. Expect powerhouse Billy Vunipola to steamroll down his channel. After reviewing England’s games, I believe there is a weakness in George Ford’s defense. On numerous occasions the opposition ran down his channel, making some headway and line breaks in the process. Expect O’Brien and co. to pressurize the fly half.
After a lacklustre campaign, the Irish will be hoping to finish on a high. Not only is pride a motivational factor but World Cup seedings are on the line. Should Wales beat France and Ireland loose, the Irish would slip to 5th in the world, swimming with the sharks of world rugby in the process.
The English are the most likely victors. If Ireland don’t close down quick ball it may be a long day. Defensively, Ringrose needs a big game. Payne at fullback offers another dimension to Ireland’s less than impressive attack. Let’s not forget the Welsh and the French were unlucky not to seal victories against their foe. The main point is the English grind out results. They have grit and determination.
For the weekend that’s in it, and how the Irish love to spoil the English party, I’m going for an Irish win. I believe we will kick to goal more often and build up the scoreboard. Ireland by 9 points.