Ireland should beat Eddie Jones' 'New England' - Andy Goode
England need to start taking risks if they want to see off an impressive Ireland outfit and give this new era lift-off.
After a clean sweep of autumn wins and comfortable victories against weaker opposition last summer, England have only one defeat to their name since last year’s Six Nations and that was the one they threw away against Scotland last month.
However, it’s fair to say they haven’t looked convincing in this year’s tournament with the attack stalling and what looks like a lack of clarity in what they’re trying to do and an absence of the cohesion that makes the Irish so dangerous.
Clearly, England are going to struggle to be as cohesive as a side that picks 11 players in their starting XV from the same club side but we need to see the handbrake taken off and the players given licence to take chances without the fear of making mistakes.
Jones has a lot of experienced players in his side but the likes of Freddie Steward, Max Malins, Joe Marchant and Sam Simmonds are all green around the gills at international level and need to be given the confidence to shine like they do at club level.
It’s in the halfbacks where England are really inexperienced, though, and they are obviously a team’s key decision-makers so Harry Randall and Marcus Smith need to be empowered to take risks and take the game to Ireland rather than being held back.
The match-up between Smith and Johnny Sexton is the one that everyone is talking about because of the contrast in styles as well as experience and it should be a mouth-watering one.
Sexton is the master puppeteer and you can be sure he’ll manage the game effectively as well as utilising all the threats he has outside him. Smith is a player who gets people off their seats and, while he’ll need to show control too, the hope is that the tactics allow him to excite.
It looks a little bit like England are trying to play the game with Smith as if they still had Owen Farrell in the number 10 jersey and they have to adapt to the Harlequins man if they’re going to get the best out of him and if he’s to get the best out of others around him.
The defeat to Ireland at the end of last year’s Six Nations marked the end of an era for Eddie Jones and what he’s now calling ‘new England’ was born. This is the biggest test his refreshed side has had and he knows it.
The usual mind games are going on, albeit with Andy Farrell refusing to engage, but the issue over Ireland’s physicality that was there for a few years has been put to bed now and I think Eddie’s right that Ireland do arrive at Twickenham as favourites.
This is always going to be a big fixture for Farrell and Mike Catt as well. They got booted out of the England setup after the 2015 World Cup when Jones came in and I think they should’ve been given time to develop as coaches.
The RFU didn’t see things that way and, although there’s a bit of water to go under the bridge before the next World Cup, those former England coaches look to have got their current side into better shape than their old one as things stand.
The men in green will definitely miss Andrew Porter and Ronan Kelleher up front but Cian Healy and Dan Sheehan aren’t bad replacements and England look strong in that area too, provided Maro Itoje and Kyle Sinckler are 100% after doubts over them.
That’s where the game will be won and lost and if Itoje, who missed the captain’s run through illness, doesn’t make it, it will give Ireland a major advantage in the physicality stakes.
It’s the accuracy of Ireland’s attack, in contrast to England, that has stood out for me over the past 12 months and that is most noticeable from the lineout and their launch plays. England will need to stop that at source and Itoje is a key figure in that respect too.
Ireland always opt for Bundee Aki against England and I’m a massive fan of his. He’s the complete package as an inside centre, physically abrasive but with soft hands at the line and good footwork as well.
I’ve no doubt we’ll see him running down the number 10 channel and targeting Smith quite a lot as well as trying to get the better of Marchant and Henry Slade.
England need to get Smith on the front foot and if they do that, they can win but they’ll have to take risks rather than resorting to the boot. Jones has described this game as a semi-final in the context of this tournament but the last thing anyone wants to see is a 9-6 semi-final.
The public is crying out to see this young England side express themselves and if they do, anything can happen, but it’s hard to look past Ireland as favourites given what we’ve seen so far and I can see them winning by six at Twickenham.
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