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Liam Toland: Dark trenches are no place for green jerseys

Rucking game is already rumbled while the lineout malfunction added to Ireland’s woes

When Joe Schmidt makes the next cut for Japan bar Cian Healy and Rob Kearney no one starting last Saturday is safe, especially the leadership.

However, one must frame last Saturday as firstly, crucially needed preparation and secondly ask: was this a team malfunction impacting the individual or vice versa?

To answer that question I first propose parking emotions.

The selection of Tom Curry and Sam Underhill provided two game changes for England in their need to disrupt the famed Irish rucking game.


This they did but it wasn't limited to them as Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell et al had one concept embedded in them, triple team the obvious and targetable Irish ball carrier, make an offload impossible and force Ireland's scrumhalf to dig deep into every ruck possible for the ball.

Superb decoy running and accuracy from England unlocks Ireland off first phase way too easily

Ireland’s leadership frustrated me for many reasons, via their personal performances but by also not adjusting to avoid the white jersey onslaught.

Ireland’s first tip on pass came from Peter O’Mahony to Seán Cronin on 72 minutes four seconds. Cronin, by far the best Irish ball carrier, made yards and with buckets to do Bundee Aki scored. This was the first real avoidance of contact from the Irish forwards and a try resulted. More please?

Similarly, Ross Byrne opened up space for Ireland's first try by getting the ball into the tram tracks quickly a la Wales last week. This time Jacob Stockdale went to boot and Jordan Larmour scored.

Put simply, the dark trenches are no place for green jerseys.

Back to Curry and Underhill. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. On the ground the English backrow were superb but in the air?

England had but two lineout targets in Itoje and George Kruis. That was it – yet Ireland made bizarre lineout management decisions. What in God's name did they shorten their own lineout equalling the targets.

In other words, Ireland had three genuine lineout targets to England’s two yet were completely unable to source their own ball across the 10 metre space and, even more frustratingly, couldn’t steal England’s.

The tries; too many of England's came off first phase. England's first try, off a solid attacking scrum, Ben Youngs slips open field off a Billy Vunipola backrow move. Watch Conor Murray's defence as for some reason he follows Youngs around open but immediately slips down the blindside; and stays there.

He should have been on Josh van der Flier’s shoulder forcing Ross Byrne wider. But his absence forces Byrne to check towards Youngs and England immediately have numbers with each Irish defender biting inside leaving Jacob Stockdale to follow suit.

Superb decoy running and accuracy from England unlocks Ireland off first phase way too easily. Stockdale was forced to make awkward defensive decisions throughout which will not make for pleasant viewing.

Creating space

England’s second try is what any team wants to create. Those fortunate to “enjoy” the famed Willie Anderson drills of yore will note pleasantly how England’s powerful forwards targeted soft shoulders, on their terms, pumped their feet as their heads swivelled for runners before the deftest of passes to another hard running supporter.

This is classic Anderson “continuity” and proved hugely beneficial in creating space as Ireland’s defence concertinaed as Elliot Daly ran over for try number two.

England's third try was the most infuriating of them all. Ireland had a defensive lineout from a quality George Ford sliding kick, but bizarrely decided to shorten it to five. Yes, they had their three targets, O'Mahony, Jean Kleyn and Ian Henderson but still complicated the movement, the pods and the arrival of the ball for Kruis to steal.

Roll on and England score off an attacking scrum. Why oh why make life so complicated. In fact, the leadership allowed a malfunctioning set piece to become more complicated when simplicity and speed would suffice. England’s forth try, well, that was down to another lineout malfunction.

Next team selection, with South Africa in mind I wonder how our overlooked exiles might help us?

But the lineout leading to Kruis’s 53rd minute try was perplexing. Byrne had kicked out on the full giving England an attacking lineout. I feel hugely for Ross Byrne as Dan Carter would struggle behind that pack.

So, what do Ireland do with their lineout defence? Fight to get it back? No! England, have a six and one lineout with only Itoje and Kruis potential receivers as Vunipola stands at scrumhalf. Yet again, Ireland don’t compete in the air; this is unforgivable so much so I wonder was it a mysterious strategy? It made me angry to watch it.

As regards the pack, I noted two carries in anger from CJ Stander. The first on 47minutes, the second on 68 minutes. Again, the team or the individual but either way our ball-carrier carrying only twice, both in the second half, is a poor return from a backrow.

The reason?

He was bogged down in the trenches which obviously impacts his natural game but where are the Willie Anderson continuity carriers? Eight tries to two implies many things; a whitewash, a drubbing etc, but look deeper.

At half-time Ireland had similar passing stats to England and ditto overall possession so Ireland had plenty of ball but struggled hugely to impose themselves and obviously malfunctioned when England had possession. This is improvable and the lineout management and accuracy fixable.

So, who gets cut or protected?

Next team selection, with South Africa in mind I wonder how our overlooked exiles might help us? The best starting backrow, as performed last season is Rhys Ruddock, Jack Conan and Josh van de Flier. James Ryan must return. As for midfield? Chris Farrell would be a handy physical foil in such circumstances.

As for starting hooker. The fish was in the boat and all any of the four potentials had to do was hit it with an oar; but alas, none could with Niall Scannell best.