So here we go. The provincial jerseys have been put away, the inter county rivalry has been put away and the green jersey is clean and ready to be worn and doused with Guinness.
The 6 Nations is here and Ireland arrives as favourites, as expectant winners and with all the pressure.
First up is the old enemy. England arrives in disarray looking for a scalp to plaster over the wounds of the last 12 months. I would like to be more grown up about England but I am afraid that won’t happen. A lot of the prematch nonsense has given way to comedy and on the eve of the game, I am confident.
Looking at the stats first:
Looking at the last 5 matches, Ireland is unbeaten and has played the best team in the world. England has 1 loss against that same team. In terms of head to head, Ireland is ahead 3-2 in the last 5 meetings between the sides. The most recent being last year’s 6 Nations where England where thoroughly dismissed. England came into last year’s 6 Nations on the verge of an unbeaten run that was the envy of world rugby. Now they stand in the middle of quicksand.
So this brings up Eddie Jones. The rugby equivalent of your drunken granddad at Christmas. You just give him a glass of port, put him in the corner and ignore his ramblings. That is where EJ and his staff are now. And it shows how weak the mentality is in the England setup. You never talk like that if you are secure in what you are doing. In a nightclub, the fella who is loud is the one who is the most insecure. That is why they usually end up in hospital at the end of the night because they picked on the quiet guy.
But I digress
EJ et al are ramping up the pre match talk. Completely covering up that they still have no idea who their starting selection is. Do they play Youngs, do they play Farrell, and do they play both? Who is the midfield, who is the best 7 and who is the full back? These are questions that have been hanging around forever, but have never been addressed. In Ireland as soon as any of these issues arrive, they are addressed. Full back being the latest example. With Rob Kearney having his name on the jersey it is about who is the backup. Larmour is there to cover FB, both wings and midfield (as he did against England last year very well), so who else can pop into the 15 jersey. Henshaw has been a project of Schmidt in the FB cover for a year. Injuries cost him game time there in November but now he gets his shot. Having played there for Connacht and in his Irish debut he will be fine. Ireland also gets their best players on the pitch. Aki couldn’t have been left out after November, so every master is served here in a smart intelligent way. England, on the other hand is sticking with an FB in Elliot Daly who is found out every time he gets into that 15 jersey.
England has gone with bulk with a pinch of speed in their selection. None of their players would make it into the starting Ireland squad, only 2 would get a match day tracksuit. We have to realise this. England are not a rugby power house, they ARE England. A massive amount of arrogance surrounds them that will cost the team. The team know that the coach doesn’t know his starting 15, that will play games with them.
So the next question is, was Eddie Jones taking advantage of the Lancaster infrastructure that was built before he got there and it is only in the last 18 months that his ideas have taken over the entire operation? Or is it bad luck? Well, when you look at the amount of people who DON’T want to work with him, resulting in Mitchell being hired (another coach on the naughty list) mostly because no one else wanted the job.
Not good signs, especially when you look at the next Ireland coach and the current Leinster senior coach being given the freedom to implement their plans.
So what are we looking for as Irish supporters? Well Ireland regularly starts slow in this competition and that cannot happen. Ireland needs to hit the ground running. Especially with this England team who have an hour in them at most. I expect Ireland to throw in some long phase plays early to test the wind of England, to have them breathing so hard that they first 4 rows of the Aviva have to be treated for oxygen deprivation. These long plays may happen a couple of times. That will be followed by the green wall marching forward, putting pressure on Farrell and Youngs who will feel that pressure and offload to Tuilagi as quickly as they can. Tuilagi won’t finish the game. Ireland knows that if they place their kicks well to move England around, they will wilt. Ireland-jitzu will kick in and take away any opportunity for positive decision making and the scores will come in the last 20 to 30 minutes to make the scoreboard look good.
It won’t be close if Ireland shows up.
Let’s embrace being favourites, lets chase silverware and lets measure where Ireland are on this journey to RWC!
As I say every week.
When you come at the kings, best not miss.