Three years is a long time in Test rugby and while Ireland’s last victory over England may have been memorable, the 2011 dateline on that day’s story consigns it firmly to the history section.
Yes, it’s been three long years since Martin Johnson’s England were denied a Grand Slam by Declan Kidney’s heroes on a grey March afternoon in Dublin. Three defeats have followed, one a World Cup warm-up six months later that was neither here nor there in the scheme of things but the more recent pair of losses have continued to hurt the players involved.
First of all there was the scrummaging meltdown at Twickenham in 2012 and last year saw the rot set in at the Aviva Stadium when Ireland lost the services of both Johnny Sexton and Simon Zebo early on and then went down in the arm wrestle at the start of a miserable run which saw Kidney exit at the end of the season.
All of which sets the scene for today’s renewal, back at Twickenham, with a new Ireland once again daring to dream now that first-season head coach Joe Schmidt has re-armed them with some self-belief that has delivered two wins from two and sets up a game with a Triple Crown on the line for the men in green as well as some business to finish.
“Last year was a tough one to take,” Rob Kearney said yesterday. “It was probably at a time when the Irish rugby team was very low at that stage. And then of course the last time we were in Twickenham, the debacle with the scrum after 40 minutes and how we were bullied off the field is still very strong in our memories.
“We do recognise that there is an onus on us against the English teams. There is a lot at stake.”
Certainly some silverware in only Schmidt’s sixth game at the helm would represent quite a turnaround but there can be no bigger challenge in which to achieve it than against a young, confident and powerful England side in Fortress Twickenham.
England may have lost their opener to a France side that considered itself fortunate in Paris that night as they got the bounce of the ball at key moments but Stuart Lancaster’s side still have title ambitions and a win over Ireland would blow the championship wide open.
They blanked Scotland on an awful pitch at Murrayfield last week and return to London for their first home game of the campaign with spirits high. Ireland have spent the week lauding Lancaster’s players for their physicality, intensity and strong set-piece but England’s loss of scrummaging cornerstone Dan Cole at tighthead prop could be crucial, his replacement David Wilson no pushover for Cian Healy but rarely exposed at Test level and lacking gametime with Bath after injury.
If Schmidt’s men play to their capabilities and can maintain the intensity that blew away Wales a fortnight ago, then they will be celebrating a first Triple Crown since the Grand Slam season of 2009. And a Slam of their own will be just two games away. Ireland’s defence has been watertight so far, conceding no tries and allowing just nine points against in two games.
England will have done their homework on the Irish dismantling of the lacklustre Welsh and will target the rolling maul as a means to halting the visiting juggernaut and forcing Johnny Sexton to get more creative with Ireland’s attack.
Yet Sexton and this Irish backline have plenty more in their armoury than has been seen to this point and on what looks to be a picture of a pitch on what is forecast to be a dry day, that could point to a change of tack to the gameplans deployed against the Scots and Welsh.
Defence coach Les Kiss was not arguing with that yesterday after a light workout on the Twickenham pitch but emphasised that simplicity was the key for Ireland.
“To tell you the truth there is nothing too complex. There has been a real focus on making sure we get the basics right. We know if we get the basics right we will open up a few more opportunities for ourselves based on as simple plan. So there’s nothing too outlandish, but it’s well know that we will adapt our tactics slightly to suit the defence we’re playing against. It’s easy to say that and practice it but you’ve got to get a couple of things right to make sure you can open up a few of those opportunities.
“A lot of that happens up front to set it up and a lot of it is about doing the basics as well as you can.
Then your smarts can come through and your tactics can come through. Nothing outlandish, but definitely a different challenge playing England here at Twickenham.”
A simple plan with a simple outcome will do just fine for Ireland this afternoon.
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