by Brendan Cole
Do pack weights matter?
If Ireland and England square off with the teams as expected at Aviva Stadium on Sunday, they will start relatively evenly matched up front with the English pack tipping the scales at around the 900kg mark and Ireland slightly lighter at about 895kg.
But the balance could shift dramatically in England’s favour as the match develops with the visitors’ substitutes all bigger than the men they are likely to replace.
Northampton pair Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes will add about 11kg if they replace Joe Launchbury and Tom Youngs, while sub tighthead Dave Wilson outweighs the comparatively lightweight Dan Cole by 7kg.
But the weight will really start to shift in England’s favour when the massive Vunipola brothers enter the fray. Replacement loosehead Mako Vunipola will bring a massive 130kg, 17 additional kilogrammes compared to Joe Marler. Younger brother Billy is not far behind at 126kg and will add at least 12kg if he replaces Tom Wood or James Haskell.
Put it all together and the England team that finishes the game could potentially have an additional 49 kilos over Ireland’s starting lineup.
As for Ireland, the trend goes in the other direction with the main drop set to occur when Mike Ross departs for Declan Fitzpatrick.
The total Irish weight will then drop by about 15kg to 880kg.
All of a sudden, England could outweigh Ireland by around 64kg.
If England’s heaviest forwards are on the pitch at the same time, they will boast an average weight above 120kg, almost 19 stone a man, making them one of heaviest packs in the history of the game, if not the heaviest.
So – all doom and gloom for Ireland? Not necessarily. A fair chunk of England’s weight advantage is in the back row, away from the heart of the contest and Ireland will actually outweigh England in the starting tight five, with Ross the heaviest starting forward.
And compared to last year, the key match-up is different as England field a different loosehead and hooker directly up against Mike Ross because of Alex Corbisiero’s injury and the fact that the temperamental Dylan Hartley is on the bench.
Ireland have also changed, albeit not by much with four of the same tight five as lined out last year. Mike McCarthy will pack down in the second row in place of Donncha O’Callaghan.
And it is not all about sheer weight either (for example, Fiji have fielded some of the heaviest teams ever, and are hardly considered a scrum powerhouse).
Brute strength, technical ability, focus and motivation count for plenty in the contest.
Ireland have enlisted performance guru Enda McNulty to help with the latter elements and that could be the final trump card that reverses their fortunes in this battle.
That said, it is hard to get away from the reality that the longer Ross lasts, the better Ireland’s chance of victory becomes.
Imports and Exports
Given all the talk about the proliferation of imports into European teams this year, it’s interesting to note that the England starting XV will feature only player was born outside the country: Saracens centre Brad Barritt.
Barritt came up through the ranks in South African rugby, playing for their Under-21s and the Emerging Springboks. His first involvement with England came when he was capped by Martin Johnson in the 2009 Churchill Cup.
It is true that four of the likely English bench were born outside the country: brothers Mako and Billy Vunipola, Dylan Hartley and Manu Tuilagi.
Five of Tuilagi brothers have represented Samoa, but Manu has been part of the English system since his early teens, and has been playing age-grade rugby there since Under-14. Hartley, who qualifies for England via his English mother, arrived in the country age 16.
In the case of the Vunipolas, the arrival in Europe came before the age of 10, though the first stop was Wales. The brothers travelled with their father, who had signed to play hooker with Pontypridd and the family only later moved to Bristol.
Ireland have four players not born on the island in the matchday squad. Jamie Heaslip was born in Tiberias due to the fact his father was deployed in the region with the Irish army while Ronan O’Gara was born in Miami, while Declan Fitzpatrick and Mike McCarthy were both born in England.
No player in either squad is playing on the basis of residency.
That could well change in future with the likes of Jared Payne and CJ Stander potentially set to become naturalised Irishmen. South Africa’s Richardt Strauss has already done so.
Having spent a year on the sidelines with injury soon after arriving, Payne will actually become eligible for Ireland as soon as next year.
England's sevens focus gives Ireland a chance
On the face of it, the Ireland women’s team face an uphill struggle in their clash with England but if they can pull off a win, the toughest match of their Six Nations campaign will be out of the way.
In week one, Ireland scraped to a 12-10 victory over a Wales side they beat relatively comfortably.
England got their campaign off to a flyer with a 76-0 victory over Scotland, the weakest side in the competition.
England dominate the women’s competition and have won the Grand Slam six of the last seven years, but despite the contrast in starts this year is Ireland’s opportunity with a dozen of the main England squad focussing on sevens at the moment.
England head coach Gary Street admitted that if this year’s Six Nations was considered ‘must win, they would not be pursuing the policy of letting frontline players miss parts of the Six Nations.
Hopefully, Ireland can take advantage.
It is.....sometimes interesting to read the tea-leaves when it comes to what is being said in press-conferences in the run-up to big games and tournaments.
Prior to the Rugby World Cup in 2011, Ireland players were speaking about the need to ‘win the collisions’. The mentality was clear: no matter what happened, the sudden onset of physical weakness that sank Ireland at the 2007 edition would not be repeated.
Ireland duly mullered through an Australia that had not done their video analysis but found their brand of basic, smash-it-up rugby too simple to take care of Wales. Arguably, the hints of what eventually took place were there in all the “win the collisions” talk beforehand.
Two years before that, Brian O’Driscoll’s famous (infamous?) ‘wisdom versus knowledge’ press conference back in 2009 gave an insight into...well, it suggested something was up. Ireland won the Grand Slam a few weeks later.
This year, Ireland’s pre-match talk has been peppered with slightly more sports psych-talk than usual.
Examples? There has been the usual smattering of the ‘control the controllables’, while Gordon D’Arcy was talking about the "squad mantra" earlier this week (“no matter what it takes to get it done, just do it'” – this works just as well if applied to the housework). Brian O’Driscoll referred to the need to "live in the moment" four times in yesterday’s press conference.
Is it a secret ingredient? Could it be the Enda McNulty effect?
Sports psychology-speak might not be to everyone’s taste but the former Armagh footballer has been working with Leinster for four years, during which time they have picked up three Heineken Cups.