SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: England will have to play out of their skins to have any chance against Ireland
I never thought I would write this about an England team, but they have just got to try to compete and put some much-needed respect back into the shirt in Dublin on Saturday.
I simply cannot see them winning the game. If England lose to Ireland by about 10 points, that would be respectable. It pains me to make such a statement but I do so only to paint a true reflection of where both teams are at.
It is a sobering reality of the decline of English rugby and that debate is for another day, but no one – yes, no one – is expecting a victory at the Aviva Stadium.
Steve Borthwick’s side will have to play out of their skins to have any chance. A week on from the 53-10 hammering by France, I am still shocked by the result. A repeat demolition is entirely possible because Ireland are equally good, if not better, than France.
When I look at Ireland, I see a formidable squad. Not one English player gets in their side right now. Again, that’s a reflection of how far England are behind.
England suffered their worst ever defeat at Twickenham losing 10-53 to France in Six Nations
Not one English player gets in to the Ireland side right now which is a reflection of England
Steve Borthwick’s side will have to play out of their skins to have any chance on Saturday
Ireland are a seriously impressive unit from one to 23 but it is in their forwards where they have a particular strength and that spells real trouble for England.
As I wrote earlier in the tournament, the No 10 debate has been a big distraction for England. The discussion over who should be at fly-half between Owen Farrell, Marcus Smith and George Ford has masked other problems – most significantly in the pack.
Against France, England’s forwards were obliterated. I’m surprised there has only been one change to the pack for Ireland and even that has been injury enforced with lock Ollie Chessum out after a serious ankle problem.
England’s forwards must respond in Dublin and I fully expect them to after the hammering they’ve received from all quarters since last week’s demolition.
They were humiliated by France, blown away at the contact area and smashed to bits physically. Things won’t get any easier in Dublin because I think the Irish pack is the best in the world.
I could discuss each player in detail but they are all world class! They are a really scary outfit. England have got to turn up physically against the Ireland forwards to have any chance.
I actually like the look of the England back-line. I’m pleased to see Henry Arundell start. He will be a fantastic player for England and is a phenomenal talent. But make no mistake, Ireland will look to target him and he will be in for a tough game.
We have all seen the wonderful attacking ability Arundell has. There is no doubt he is of Test class.
We have seen him score wonder tries for London Irish and England already so we know he is good going forward. Against Ireland, we will find out if Arundell can defend.
Henry Arundell will be a fantastic player for England but he’s in for a tough day against Ireland
Ireland will look to expose him in the kicking battle but I think Arundell will cope. I hope he has a good game. His first international start couldn’t be coming at a tougher place.
I’d have liked to have seen Alex Mitchell start at scrum-half. I think Jack van Poortvliet is fortunate to keep his place after some ponderous displays.
When Mitchell has come on, he has injected some much-needed pace into the attack. With Arundell and Anthony Watson out wide, England have plenty of promise but that will mean nothing if they can’t play on the front foot.
England’s forwards need to step up significantly and that applies to all eight of them, including established players such as Jamie George, Ellis Genge and Maro Itoje whose reputations really are on the line.
Frankly, there needs to be a huge step up across the board which I think we will see.
I can see why Borthwick has gone back to Farrell. It wouldn’t have mattered a jot who played No 10 against France – the result would have been the same.
I think there is an element of Borthwick protecting Smith this weekend because if he starts and England suffer another heavy defeat, there could be long-term consequences.
When you are in a corner, as England are right now, Farrell is the sort of guy you want in the trenches. It is right he is captain. Frankly, there is no one else to do so currently.
Jack van Poortvliet is fortunate to keep his place in the team after some ponderous displays
Ireland deserve to win a Grand Slam. From my own experience, I know that doing so is not easy but Andy Farrell and his side are doing a superb job right now. They look to have it all but one moment of madness, or one red card, can ruin it all.
Even when they suffered injuries against Scotland, Ireland defied the odds, asking a prop to play hooker and a back-row to throw into the lineout, to record a victory.
Winning a Grand Slam is not easy but to have the luxury of a home Grand Slam game is special. I had four shots at a Grand Slam with England and all four were away games. We won one of the four in Dublin, which will be rocking today. It will take one of the biggest upsets in rugby history for England to quieten the Irish crowd and ruin their Grand Slam party. I can’t see it happening but what I can see is this England team restoring some pride.
Ireland and England will bring down the curtain on what has been an excellent Six Nations on the whole, with Scotland facing Italy and France against Wales completing ‘Super Saturday’.
France can still win the title if they beat Wales and England topple Ireland. I can only see one result in Paris, but the game may be closer than people expect.
There is an element of Borthwick protecting Marcus Smith after his performance last weekend
It could also be a long afternoon for Warren Gatland’s Wales as they take on France in Paris
Wales have had a tough tournament and France played rugby of the Gods at Twickenham, so it could be a long afternoon for Warren Gatland’s men. I can see why Gatland has gone for experience and brought back Alun Wyn Jones and George North.
The Stade de France can be unforgiving, especially if the home side is firing on all cylinders. It is no place for young guns who might be out of their depth. They could be lambs to the slaughter.
The first game sees Italy travel to Edinburgh. Scotland should still have enough for victory, even without injured star men Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell – especially with home advantage.
Italy have certainly improved in this Six Nations but they look destined to end the Championship bottom once again.
Source of data and images: dailymail