So here we are, sitting on Friday morning on the edge of history. There are a few unknowns going into the Twickenham encounter of old enemies but there are also some known unknowns.
Firstly the teams have been announced. 1 team has made wholesale changes, the other has stuck with tried and trusted. Which brings us to the first questions of the day. That is, if you change half of your team, does that mean you know something or you know nothing? For me, it shows pressure, it shows annoyance but it also shows that Eddie Jones (whilst he is a silly bugger) is able to see past ‘his way’ to a more positive team selection.
Moving Farrell to 10 was the only way forward, it appears that Jones saw the Lions tour with J10 and Farrell at 10 and 12 and how well that worked and thought it would bring another threat to England, when in reality it was part of the confusion. He has remedied that, but it is too late to make a dent on the league table. Looking at the England team it reads like a group that should be playing for the title on St Patricks day, but in reality, they have been a team a year older with minimal changes, the leaders have been absent and they have been playing out of position. 2 kickers didn’t work, that ruined their midfield, the back row where our position which leads to mili seconds of hesitation at the breakdown which has led to massive amount of penalties. In reality it is easily sorted but the stereotypical English arrogance meant they stuck with the bad moves for too long. Itoje was looked at as a leader going forward, hasn’t happened. Robshaw and Sinckler looked to be the only players who have made any change in the last few games when they appeared and them starting shows that England plan to go for it from the first second. The last thing about selection is Ben T’eo and Joseph at 12 and 13. This shows that England will bash all day. I think in T’eo’s career he has passed the ball 4 times.
England are a known, we know what they will try to do. It is about how they deal with the 6 Nations champions that will be interesting.
Ireland on the other hand, comes in confident and ready to grab history. The knowns for Ireland are a strong pack, strong set piece and an improving defence. Don’t listen to the pundits talking about Scotland botching tries, the Scottish mistakes were caused by the Irish defence and tackling. It wasn’t perfect but it was a massive improvement. Something that England knows is not the apparent easy try they thought beforehand. The idea of going wide every time is not going to work. Especially with Ireland being able to turn over the ball and aim at their back 3 who are very weak in defence.
Ireland is mostly known, the unknown is positive and negative. That being Stockdale is he a shooter? Is he thumbing his nose at side-line instructions to score? The answer is no he isn’t, he is allowed to go for it and the ratio is at the point where he gets it right more often than not. So if England choose to go wide, the big nordyman is there waiting to snatch a pass that isn’t perfect, more pressure on England there. The second unknown is England’s only chance. That being the Irish line out. The only shot England has of threatening the Irish set piece is a bad throw in from Captain Best. He knows this and I am sure he has been working with Ryan (man of the tournament) and Hendo to make sure everything is 100%. If Best can throw good darts early doors then it won’t be an issue.
It will be an amazing weekend. Ireland have embraced and performed under the pressure of the favourites tag, reached the 2nd best ranking in the world for the first time and no other team in the world wants to play them. England is no different, they have dug a hole for themselves and they will struggle to compete after the early dogfight. Their coach has dug a hole for his team and he is feeling pressure for the first time in his England career. If this was a year ago I would say that all of the furore this week would have been Eddie jones mind games, but it is desperation. Do they have the leaders to navigate the strangulation rugby that Ireland will bring, knowing that any slight error will cost them? I don’t think so.
Ireland to win the slam by at least 7 points and all of us to call in sick to work next week.
Whatever happens, enjoy Paddy’s day. Stay safe, stay warm and stay relatively sober