Ireland must ask the right questions and innovate

Joe Schmidt must have given serious consideration to putting Peter O’Mahony in the starting line-up, writes Donal Lenihan.

Ireland must ask the right questions and innovate

1. Passion alone won’t suffice

To beat England today, Ireland not only need to rediscover the flawless technical execution that caught New Zealand cold in Chicago, but marry that with a manic intensity that characterised lesser Irish teams in this fixture in the past.

Ireland have been a bit too sanitised for me in this championship. Perhaps there is such a conscious focus on not conceding penalties - an average of six per game this season to date is phenomenal - but sometimes you just have to be prepared to push things and play more on the edge.

With their backs embedded in the wall as opposed to against it, the Welsh players lifted their collective performance, both in attack and defence, in Cardiff in the certainty if they didn’t slow Irish possession and knock them back in the tackle, Ireland would have their measure.

Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric played to the limit of the law and competed for everything like vultures at the breakdown.

When Wayne Barnes stopped refereeing that area with the same forensic vigour in the second-half, the Welsh back row seized on that immediately and discommoded Ireland even further.

Ireland need to learn from that and attack every breakdown with purpose. It helps England carry no outright fetcher in their back row - Wales had two - with Eddie Jones opting for power and size to do the damage. Blindside Maro Itoje, outstanding athlete though he is, is a second row and at 6’ 4” James Haskell is more a carrier and a ball winner. Ireland need to capitalise on that.

Since concentrating on this game last Monday, Jones has been at pains to point out to his players “Ireland will come at you with a lot of emotion. Disappointment builds aggression.”

How right he is. The only way Ireland can rescue what has been a very disappointing championship to this point is by beating England.

What’s more, I don’t think England will facilitate Ireland’s cause by being in any way off the pace mentally on the back of winning the championship last weekend. They have been here before, twice recently under Jones. They were in the same position last season, travelling to Paris with the title secured and a Grand Slam to win which they did.

They also had the test series against Australia won last summer going into the final game against a Wallaby side thirsting for redemption yet England still beat them.

The message from that is clear. Manic aggression and a raucous Aviva Stadium support, while absolutely necessary, isn’t going to be sufficient to win this one. Ireland need to be far more clinical in their execution, smarter in their decision making and eradicate the unforced handling errors that stymied their progress last time out.

2. Set piece humdinger

Since his very first day in the job, Eddie Jones preached a simple message that he would build England’s game around a powerful set piece.

The English traditionally field bigger packs than any of the Celtic nations, with far more numbers to pick from, and Jones was always going to turn that to his advantage.

Picking Itoje in the back row is a embodiment of that philosophy.

He even switches him with Courtney Lawes for certain scrums, utilising Itoje’s more explosive power to aid his tight-head prop Dan Cole achieve the all important right angle on certain scrums.

The English lineout has proved an even better attacking platform with five of their seven tries against Scotland stemming directly from that source.

Three came from perfect ball, off the top, from Lawes at the tail of the line out - the best attacking ball of all as it serves to tie in the opposition back row.

One resulted from a powerful maul for Billy Vunipola and Jonathan Joseph’s third which came when England suckered Scotland into thinking they were going to maul again off a close in lineout but moved the point of attack.

With multiple targets for hooker and captain Dylan Hartley to hit out of touch, Joe Schmidt must have given serious consideration to introducing Peter O’Mahony but, surprisingly, has decided to resist the call.

Apart altogether from his aerial prowess, O’Mahony’s combative nature would have added considerably more to the Irish mix up front.

The decision to relegate Devin Toner to the bench puts further pressure on Ireland’s ability to compete out of touch and, one assumes, Ireland will now call more shortened lineouts and use the likes of O’Brien in midfield from that set up to get them over the gain line.

England cannot be allowed the attacking platform off the tail of the lineout that ultimately served to rip the Scottish defence apart but the make-up of Ireland’s line-out today will make it even more difficult to counteract that challenge.

England’s scrum supremacy is not quite as pronounced and Ireland need to impose themselves here in order to gain a very important psychological advantage. Today is the day for Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong to cement their places on the Lions tour. Ireland carries a slight scrum advantage but must make it count.

3. Ireland will need more innovation in attack to win

I can’t see Ireland winning this game without scoring at least two tries. Scotland managed three in their slaughter at Twickenham when England’s defensive vulnerability in the 10 and 13 channels were exposed.

Some of that can be attributed to the fact that England had the game sewn up at that stage and concentration levels had dropped somewhat.

The problem with Ireland is they are not asking sufficient questions of the opposition defence when it comes to making tackles. We do not have enough people running dummy lines, creating confusion and uncertainty for the tackler.

A defender hates nothing as much as being forced to make a split-second decision on who to tackle.

England’s attack achieved that against Scotland, with the twin playmaking axis of George Ford and Owen Farrell creating havoc.

In addition, when Jack Nowell is introduced off the bench early in the second-half, he will be granted a licence to roam off his wing and occupy positions trailing Ford and Farrell that attract the peripheral vision of the defender.

Ireland just ran straight at Wales making life so much easier for Scott Williams and Jonathan Davies. They need to offer more variation today.

England’s line speed in defence is suffocating. Perched in the upper stand in Twickenham last weekend,

I couldn’t help but notice the massive white wall of England jerseys spread right across the pitch, sprinting out of the line in unison as if the starting gun for a 100m race had gone off.

Schmidt will need to reproduce some of his smart power plays off the set piece to attack England when their back row is tied in.

The addition of Jared Payne, who impressed when positioned at full-back in the opening two tests in South Africa, adds to Ireland’s counter-attacking ability while his subtle offloads should offer chances for Simon Zebo and Keith Earls in the wider channels.

The loss of Conor Murray was just about the last thing Schmidt needed and tips the balance in England’s favour. Unless Ireland find a way to frustrate their flow of possession and break the link between Ford and Farrell, the likelihood is Eddie Jones and his men will enter the history books in Dublin today.

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