England have characterised their record 53-10 defeat to France as a kind of mourning within the squad. But after three days of team building, since the French wreaked havoc in Twickenham, they believe they have the character to make St Patrick’s weekend a little less than an all-green party for the hosts.
Speaking from their London base in Bagshot, assistant coach Kevin Sinfield said that correctly handling a defeat as damaging as the one England suffered is essential to be able to face “the number one team in the world” in Dublin.
“Handling it is really important,” said the former Rugby League player, who switched to Rugby Union from Leeds Rhinos last December. “People deal with it very, very differently, like it’s almost a form of grief.”
England also released a squad on Tuesday in which Ollie Chessum was not included. The Leicester lock, who can also play backrow, injured his ankle during a training session and will not recover for the game on Saturday.
“Steve Borthwick has retained a 30-player squad for England’s Guinness Six Nations match against Ireland this weekend,” said the statement.
“Ollie Chessum sustained an ankle injury in training on Tuesday, March 14th, which has ruled him out of this weekend’s game. George Martin has been called up to the squad.”
“It’s been tough. Any time you get 50 stuck on your chin, it’s not nice,” added Sinfield. “It don’t feel any different from the last time I got 50 stuck on my chin so we’ve worked through it. You probably get a fair bit less sleep mulling quite a few things over trying to understand why.
“But we’ve worked incredibly hard to try and fix some of the areas we fell short and we’ve quite a few. The players were hit quite hard from a result like that. We’ll fight through it as a team. This was never going to be a straight line. It was never going to be straightforward. We weren’t good enough at the weekend.”
England have Manu Tuilagi lined up to make comeback. Bath centre Ollie Lawrence is also out with a hamstring injury, while Tuilagi was dropped from the England squad that faced Scotland in their opening Six Nations clash, coach Steve Borthwick’s maiden Test.
His experience and strength were aspects England could have done with in their tortuous day out last Saturday. His physicality was especially missed with Tuilagi expected to play some role in the final match of the championship.
“He [Tuilagi] has been great in camp as well,” said Sinfield. “Disappointed for Ollie [Chessum], who has played very well for us. He [Tuilagi] deserves a shot this week and he brings more physicality to it. We needed more of that last weekend.
“It’s not like he’s new in camp. His influence has been great. Having someone like Manu being available … he’ll be welcome back.”
Sinfield did express surprise at how deflated and lacking energy England appeared pointing to an early passage of play in the game against France that was just 80 seconds long but showed that the players appeared to look extremely low on energy.
“Why is that? What is that about? We didn’t change our training last week we’ve been really smart on monitoring,” said Sinfield. “It’s hard to pick one thing that went wrong. It’s been a combination of things to go after.”
However, he insisted that England were not “circling the wagons”. But due to the magnitude of the beating, the painful post-match analysis of all of the things that malfunctioned has aligned the players and brought them closer together.
“At the minute it’s horrible because it’s raw,” he said. “It’s not a circle the wagon mentality at all but certainly results like that can galvanise teams. We certainly made improvements over the last five or six weeks, clearly not enough to match it with the second-best team in the world.
“We look forward to what is an enormous game against the best team in the world, a team that has lost just five matches since 2019. If you wanted a test and a challenge to see what character we have got, we’ll find out.”