Six Nations: Caelan Doris braced for the challenge of Ireland’s visit to Twickenham

Leinster and Ireland number eight expecting England to produce a huge effort to derail Ireland’s Grand Slam ambitions

Being distracted by the pall of gloom around England’s transitional game is a state of mind Caelan Doris is determined to avoid.

Twickenham has, over the decades, often provided a reality check for Irish teams. A big game against big players is guaranteed. But outcomes are not.

Ireland have won the last four matches between the teams, including in last year’s Six Nations Championship and a warm-up game before the World Cup. England won the four prior to that.

In 2020 for his second cap, Doris came off the bench for Josh van der Flier. The England bench also emptied and Ben Earl came in for Tom Curry. This week both Doris and Earl could start in one of the interesting head-to-heads which have long marked these testy meetings.


“It was my second cap, my first time playing them over there,” says Doris. “I remember the extra bit of niggle in the game, some of the contacts there was a little bit more in them. There were some personal rivalries there.

“I’ve been obviously watching Ben Earl who’s been in my position quite a bit, and he’s been playing some class stuff. I’m excited to go up against him.”

In the last two meetings between the teams England’s discipline was highlighted in the worst way. Freddie Steward was red-carded in last year’s Six Nations match and Billy Vunipola’s yellow for a high tackle on Andrew Porter was upgraded to a red by the bunker referee in August’s meeting. It all seemed to point towards an England team that, at least six months ago, was feeling the stress.

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That was followed by a third-place finish at the World Cup and some restoration of prestige. But, blighted by inconsistency, England might have flattered to deceive in Paris as they arrived in Murrayfield a few weeks ago.

Then for the fourth time in as many seasons Scotland thumped them, this time 30-21 with orchestration by the inventive Finn Russell and illumination by the hat-trick from arch-nemesis Duhan van der Merwe.

So which England side will step off the team bus this weekend, the one that nearly made the World Cup final or the one that allowed Scotland, for the first time in more than 50 years, complete a quartet of wins in the Calcutta Cup.

“I still rate them very highly as a team,” says Doris.

“If you look at them individually as a team they’ve got top-quality players. If you go back a few months they came third at the World Cup. It takes a quality team to do that.

“They were so close to beating South Africa, so you know if they get things right they can be right up there with anyone. But we feel like we’re in a similar boat, that we’ve so much belief in what we can do. If we get things right, we believe we can beat anyone. A large amount of the focus is on us.

“They’re a pretty pragmatic team, fairly territory-based, rely quite a bit on ill-discipline in other teams, have a strong set-piece, a very good rolling maul, pride themselves on their scrum, and sort of play quite a pressure-based game. We saw a stat during the week that they’ve scored almost half their points directly from penalties, so it shows the pressure they put on other teams and the damage they can do with penalties.”

Doris recalls former captain Johnny Sexton explaining that he took inspiration from fans inside the stadium, the 80,000 people cheering regardless of who they were cheering for. The noise was the fuel. Puncturing the atmosphere or dimming the volume with an early Irish score will help. Either way, there is too much winning DNA in the Irish team now not to have faith in the totality of their game.

“I think largely it’s trying to poker-face it, not let it get to you and block it out as best possible,” says Doris. “A fast start is always good in nullifying an away crowd so that will be an objective. I remember Johnny saying he takes inspiration from people being there and people cheering. I think relishing a good atmosphere regardless of which way it’s going.”

At a personal level, taking better options are his primary work-on. It may just be a matter of experience across the all back row positions he plays. But Doris knows the effect once he gets it right.

“The decision-making element is where I think I need to improve and not having any wastage,” he says. “Being decisive about when I can go in, when I can have a second effort after a tackle. It is pretty rewarding when you slow down the ball or cause a bit of upset.

“It’s like slow poison for a team.”

Already some fighting talk.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times