Pressure on for Ireland's Six Nations daunting test against England

Nobody said it would be easy for Ireland, this 2016 RBS Six Nations championship, but two games in, they are already looking at something of a doomsday scenario.

Pressure on for Ireland's Six Nations daunting test against England

The draw with Wales and last Saturday’s defeat in Paris mean that the next appointment for Joe Schmidt’s team is a must-win affair if they are to achieve the head coach’s ambition of finishing the campaign in the top half of the table.

Eyebrows were raised three weeks ago when Schmidt spoke in London at the launch of the 2016 championship and stated a top-three position in the final table would represent a successful campaign.

Such talk, some believed, had no place coming from the man who engineered back-to-back titles for Ireland when he should have had an historic third in his sights this time around.

Yet Schmidt was simply being pragmatic.

He knew the schedule was tough for a squad shorn of leadership in key positions, not least with the retirement of 108-cap captain Paul O’Connell from a tight five also missing established props Cian Healy and Mike Ross.

He knew England would be the team lying in wait at Twickenham on February 27 for a group of players who had the unenviable task of facing two incredibly physical opponents within six days of each other.

So let us consider what he told Irish newspaper journalists at London’s Hurlingham Club on January 27 and see whether he was being unduly cautious.

“Yeah, look, to be as candid as I can be, I think a top-half finish would be a good Six Nations for us. We start with Wales and France in a six-day turnaround and then go to England.

“If we could be in the top half, that means we’d have to be in front of three pretty good teams.

“Our dream would be to do what no team has done before and we’re not going to give up the dream but we’re also reasonably pragmatic and practical in what we try to deliver and I think I would be unfair on the players if I said the only way to be successful is to win the championship.

“It’s a very complicated start for us. We want to get off to a good start but then so does everybody else. You know that as soon as you don’t get a good start you are hugely behind the eight ball because it is very contained within those five games and you can can’t afford to lose more than one, so if you don’t start well you put yourself in a very tough situation.”

And so it has come to pass. Bruised and battered, Ireland are indeed behind the eight ball and in a tough spot with a resurgent England led by new coach Eddie Jones waiting just around the corner in 11 days, having thumped an Italy side 40-9 in Rome on Sunday.

Don’t say you weren’t warned. Failure to win in south-west London a week on Saturday means the best Ireland can hope for is a two-win season, the sort of return that cost Eddie O’Sullivan his job in 2008, albeit on the back of a disastrous World Cup campaign the previous autumn, while Declan Kidney paved the way for Schmidt’s tenure by finishing fifth in 2013 with one win, a draw and defeats to England and in Scotland and Italy.

Those last two will be Ireland’s opponents in rounds four and five next month and at least this time around they will be visiting Dublin.

Schmidt’s job would not be in jeopardy, he has too much credit in the IRFU bank for that but it would be a season would be a stain on an otherwise strong resume to date.

Which is why Andrew Trimble was in the wake of the 10-9 defeat in Paris on Saturday night already talking up the England game as a win or bust showdown.

“I hope we’re building something ahead of Twickenham. We’ve passed up three or maybe four points from two games already. And now we have a big challenge,” the Ireland wing said.

“We could be daunted by that, no wins, going to England. It’s a big ask. But we need to treat it as a big opportunity to get back into the hunt. It’s a challenge. Slipping up today means we have to go there and win. It won’t be easy. We have a group of players who can react to this the right way.

“If it is a pressure thing, Twickenham is going to be the perfect thing to remedy that. We have to go out there and find a solution.”

That they will have to go there without Sean O’Brien is a major blow, particularly with England unveiling another back-row gem in Maro Itoje at the weekend.

The Saracens flanker made an impressive debut off the bench at Stadio Olimpico as Jones’s side turned on the afterburners and ran in four tries in the final 30 minutes and delivered the hiding their adversarial head coach had demanded.

Jones will not be so bullish regarding Ireland but after the first two games, Schmidt’s side have a lot of progress to make if they are to start giving the England coach sleepless nights.

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