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Ex-Ireland player's brutal 'English rugby a right old mess' verdict

By Liam Heagney
England's Ellis Genge (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

A former Ireland player has stuck the boot in on England, criticising the baffling approach being taken by Steve Borthwick’s side whom he feels were not helped last weekend by Ellis Genge’s constant whining to the referee. The English have now arrived in Dublin on the back of their humiliating 53-10 record home loss to France and no one is giving them any chance of stopping Ireland from winning the Grand Slam on Saturday.


Andy Farell’s Irish side go into the round five Guinness Six Nations match having won 21 of the last 23 games and momentum is very much with them compared to the crisis that has engulfed England, who sacked head coach Eddie Jones in December and have struggled to understand what Borthwick is attempting to do with them.

Alan Quinlan, the retired Irish back-rower, hasn’t held back in his criticism of the English in a Sports Lens blog. Asked for his verdict on England after their embarrassing loss to France, Quinlan said: “They were horrendous. I’ll tell you what English rugby is in a right old mess.

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“Steve Borthwick was the one who said England weren’t very good at anything after the Scottish game. It’s probably the truth. There is no quick fix though. It does take time. It was woeful on Saturday. The biggest surprise for me was probably just the way they were outmuscled and outworked by France.

“They need to get a game plan that suits them and I’m not sure what they are trying to do from an attacking point of view. It’s all over the shop. They just could not hold on to the ball for long enough. The overall execution and strategy from England is baffling. I’m not sure they know what way they want to play.


“There is so much more to attack than the first phase and second phase. It’s getting into multi-phase and they look totally disjointed. One thing you probably wouldn’t associate with France  – it’s a big change in the way they play nowadays – is the players are super fit, their work rate is immense.


“France won all the 50-50 balls, their energy to get around the park is so much quicker, speed of movement, all that kind of stuff. I just thought England were very sluggish, very blunt in their attack, and it was just badly exposed.

“There are a lot of confrontational physical players and that English side but collectively they are not working as a unit and from a skills point of view, I’m just very surprised. Their mentality is to slow the game down, kick a lot and try to out-muscle teams.

“The game has just changed so much now that you must attack and you must have the confidence and belief and then obviously you’ve got to execute it. They are still very skilful players, still very good players, but just collectively they’re not performing. Their back row was alarming the way they were beaten in the back row.”

With Farrell dropped to the bench versus the French, Genge was anointed as a first-time England skipper, but that appointment backfired with England trailing at the break by 27-3 after a first half to forget.


“Ellis Genge, who is a wonderful player, spent most of the first half complaining to the referee, even to the point that you could see in the cameras and they are walking off the pitch Ben O’Keefe was getting frustrated and a bit worn out from the questioning and whining and whinging.

“This Saturday is a pivotal moment for Genge and Kyle Sinckler. I do rate them. Genge is just a wonderful player but I’m not sure the captaincy situation helped him at all against France. He just needs to play his game, which is taking the ball on and running at people.”

So dire does Quinlan feel the England approach is, he wasn’t getting caught up in the debate surrounding Farrell and Marcus Smith. Farrell has been reinstated this week by Borthwick and will skipper England in Dublin with Smith on the replacements bench.


“Owen Farrell is starting because they need a strong mentality. He is a big game player and he is confrontational. They needed to change their back row. They needed a fetcher in there. They needed a number seven.

“They are playing three big players there, who are good runners with the ball or physical players if you run out at them. There is so much pace and tempo to the modern game, you need pace and people moving around the field.

“But really it doesn’t matter who’s playing nine and 10 if your forwards are not delivering, it’s very difficult. It doesn’t matter who you have in your backline if your forwards aren’t cohesive and getting dominance up front, which you would always expect from an English pack.”

Despite that crisis, can England somehow cause an upset against Ireland? “If England just go for it and have a bit more energy, then maybe. It’s not as if they are lacking physical players who can get themselves over the gain line, but I just feel they need more work, they need players to move quicker.


“If I was in the English dressing room this week, I’d be rubbing my hands together and say this is a real challenge. It is a challenge for them. It’s a mental challenge, a physical challenge. So much pressure on them, so much expectation.

“I would expect Ireland to win the game, but in no circumstances will I allow myself to think Ireland can win this by 20 or 30 points… Ireland are not going to blow England away; that is not going to happen in my opinion.

“England could unsettle Ireland. Of course, they can because they still are a big physical side. And they will be very disappointed with the collisions and the physical side of their game versus France and how they were out-muscled and out-matched.

“They have to prove they are not as bad a team as they showed against France but based on what we have seen there you know Ireland will win.”


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