Leinster coach Matt O’Connor believes Ireland can “outplay” England at Twickenham next Saturday week as long as John Plumtree’s forwards can match their efforts from the opening pair of Six Nations wins against Scotland and Wales.
The Ireland forwards coach challenged his pack to attain greatness ahead of this year’s tournament and they have risen to that challenge so far with some outstanding work at line-outs, mauls and most notably at the breakdown.
The scrum, while hardly terrifying, has largely stood up well too and all those facets will need to be aligned in London against a big English unit which O’Connor knows well on an individual basis from his three years with Leicester Tigers.
“They will be very good at the setpiece,” he explained yesterday. “They spend a lot of time at the scrum and lineout and the lineout drive. They play a pretty pragmatic game field position-wise and [Owen] Farrell kicks his goals.
“There’s a couple of key backs I know quite well that are probably good enough to be in that team and aren’t. I would imagine that if Ireland front up in the forwards like they have done in the first two Tests then they should outplay them for the majority of it.”
The provinces are used to sending their internationals off to camp in good spirits in recent times but a number have been released back to their clubs this week with their heads held even higher after the Six Nations exertions. O’Connor admitted the international side’s successes have served as a fillip but so too has been the return for tomorrow’s PRO12 game at home to Dragons of a large chunk of the men Leinster supplied to Joe Schmidt & Co. Five Leinster players started on the bench against Wales — Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Marty Moore, Isaac Boss and Fergus McFadden — and most are expected to play some part at the RDS tomorrow.
So too might Luke Fitzgerald and Eoin Reddan who are working their way back to fitness while other Ireland campers, Mike McCarthy and Jordi Murphy, will almost certainly see significant game time. So too should McFadden who has just recently left his injury worries behind him — a fractured hand — and who spoke of the growth in collective confidence now that the national selection is living up to the provincial promise.
“In the final period of when Deccie [Kidney] was in the job there was a lot of changes in and out of the team,” he said. “Yeah, confidence probably wasn’t at a high. We were losing to the likes of Scotland away last year. And then that Italian game was just the nail in the coffin.
“That’s not where Irish rugby was at from a provincial point of view. The fact that we were losing those games just didn’t really add up. The consistency has come back a small bit after winning those two games.”
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