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Analysis: Irish have enough to win
01 Mar 2015 13:01
By Bernard Jackman
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Ireland and England both bring strong records into Sunday’s clash at Aviva Stadium. Ireland are going for their tenth successive win.
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In fact, our last defeat was in last year's Six Nations away to England. For their part, England are chasing what would be a fifth consecutive win over Ireland.
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Both teams will be also hoping to produce their best performance of the season in what will probably be the Championship decider.
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Both will believe they need to improve on what they have done so far.
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There is no getting away from the importance of a really big match, or the change in atmosphere that it brings. It is a challenge for every coach. We have all seen teams produce flat performances when they needed a big one.
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How do you guarantee the best performance on the biggest days?
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Schmidt decided to change the routine a bit, moving training from Carton House and heading to Galway for a few days.
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Mentally, this change of scene can freshen things up for the players. By going to Galway, Ireland were also able to train against fresh opposition in the shape of Connacht. Apparently, the physical exchanges were intense.
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Having got through that hard work on the pitch, the players were then allowed home for a few days off. They should have come into camp last Sunday night fit and fresh, ready for a huge week of preparation.
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Getting ready for a top-level Test match is not just about being physically ready. It is a major mental challenge. The Irish players have a performance coach available to them while in camp and players sit down with him and try and ensure that they are in the right place.
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There is huge pressure in a game of this nature. The key is to use that to improve performance rather than harm it.
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With the teams so evenly matched, tactics are also massive.
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Ireland will be aware that there are specific areas where they need to be at their best.
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England always scrummage well, and their win against Ireland in 2012 was built on destroying us in that area. After some poor scrummaging in November, it is important that Ireland continue to show the improvement we have seen in this area against France and Italy.
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You can be sure England will believe that they can gain an important tactical and psychological edge in this phase of play.
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There will be a fascinating individual battle between former Harlequins team-mates Joe Marler and Mike Ross. The verbal and physical exchanges between the two in the Leinster v Harlequins Champions Cup matches this season were notably intense.
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Ireland need a strong cornerstone and Ross will have to produce again.
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England’s strengths don’t end there. They have had a lot of injuries, but they arguably have the best strength in depth of any of the teams in the competition.
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The locks Dave Attwood and George Kruis have come through and played like extra back-rowers, and James Haskell is a much-improved player at blind-side.
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Defensively, with Billy Vunipola and Chris Robshaw also in that back five in the scrum, it is hard to see Ireland getting much change of out taking the ball into contact around the fringes.
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England have also been using the choke tackle a lot recently and are very effective at it, while they stand quite close together in defence which makes them hard to break down.
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For Ireland, that means it is crucial that the ball presentation is good and that they create width.
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If those factors are in place, Ireland will have options and can change the point of contact and hit the fifth or sixth defender from the ruck.
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Behind the scrum, injuries have probably helped England to find a backline that is more of a threat. In particular, the Bath players George Ford, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson have given them a lot more firepower in attack.
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Ireland’s kicking game is so detailed and a huge strength but Lancaster has picked wings who are good in the air. Watson playing full-back at club level. Jack Nowell, who replaces Jonny May after his poor outing against Italy, was excellent under high ball last year and played full-back for England at the Junior World Cup.
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Who can Ireland target? Ford and Ben Youngs have been really impressive at half-back with Youngs stretching defences when probing around the fringes. But I think Ireland will try to put as much pressure as possible on here, with a particular focus on Youngs.
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Ireland also need to look at themselves and bring their own strengths to bear. The back line contains five players who have played full-back during their careers: Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Simon Zebo, Tommy Bowe and Rob Kearney are all strong in the air. Combine that with tactical kickers of the calibre of Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray and it is natural that Ireland will look to use the boot.
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On the ground, Ireland may also have improvement in them.
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Sexton has only started a couple of matches with Henshaw and Payne. As they get comfortable as a unit, I also expect to see more strike plays.
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Ireland under Schmidt have had a very high success rate of scoring from pre-planned ‘power plays’. Looking at how England set up, I think they will run a few off shortened line-outs and then try and expose the English tight five off phases two or three.
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The bookies have this as a scratch match or with Ireland as one-point favourites, which shows how hard it is to call. I think we have that little margin for improvement in us that will get us over the line.
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We have been judging England largely on their win in Wales, but I think that Wales had no plan B on the night.
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There is more to Ireland and I think Schmidt will vary his tactics in a smarter fashion and that we will get the win in a very tight affair.
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@bernardjackman
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