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'Zero chance' - Sir Clive Woodward: 'I knew there was no way Ireland could win that game'

By Ian Cameron
Henry Slade, Jamie George and Jonny May /PA

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World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woordward says Ireland had ‘zero chance’ of beating England in Twickenham and says his prediction of a comfortable win was justified.


England dominated Ireland 18-7 at Twickenham in their inaugural Autumn Nations Cup meeting, a fourth win on the trot against Andy Farrell’s men. It seems Eddie Jones’ team have Ireland’s number, as they scathed them in the tackle and smothered them in a seemingly omnipotent defence for the best part of 80 minutes.

England made 238 tackles to Ireland’s 72, and all but shut out the men in green until a late Billy Burns’ kick put Jack Stockdale in under the posts, giving the scoreline a more flattering hue despite a one-sided affair.  The score was in fact the first points England had conceded in more than three and a half hours of Autumn rugby.

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The mood in Ireland camp has been relatively positive following the defeat. Skipper James Ryan said he believed Ireland were ‘closing the gap’ on England, while veteran scrumhalf Conor Murray said: “If we had taken one or two of our opportunities then the game is up in the air as to who gets the win.”

Woodward didn’t see it that way.

Writing in his Daily Mail column, Woodward says that England have emerged from a 13-month hiatus following their World Cup humbling at the hands of South Africa, and are now the ‘best defensive side’ in the world.

“When I saw the selection on Thursday and felt the vibe coming out of the camp, I knew there was no way Ireland could win that game and was very confident in my prediction of a comfortable England win,” wrote Woodward.


The former England and Lions boss also took exception to Farrell claiming that some of his players had changed from ‘boys to men’ during the game.

“Ireland coach Andy Farrell seemed to take a deal of comfort in seemingly dominating the game, and even claimed that some of his players had changed from ‘boys to men’ during the course of it; I’m not so sure.”

Woodward says that the possession stats Ireland boasted were misleading.

“Ireland have a high-class pack and were always going to win their share of possession, but it’s what you do with it that counts — yes, they were missing some key players, but the way they played they had zero chance of beating England. Zero.


“There was always going to be plenty of tackling for England to get through, but they were prepared for that. Judging on this performance — one to 15 — England are probably the best defensive team in the world.”

Woodward did have some advice on how Ireland could have beaten England: “There were, of course, things they could have done. The first tactic you adopt against such a stifling defence is at the breakdown. Ball in hand, there are three options: left, right, but most importantly route one which is punching through the middle of the ruck.

“Try to clear out defenders, find a hole and try to get in behind that white wall. Breach it even by a couple of feet and you start to build a little momentum.

“Secondly, there is the kicking game. Right at the end, Billy Burns showed what might have been with his clever little dink forward which set up a try for Jacob Stockdale.

“Kicks to the wings — as with May’s first try for England — were another option Ireland needed to explore. Anything to break up England’s defensive stranglehold.”

Woodward had a strong record against Ireland as a head coach, winning five of the seven Five and Six Nations games he played against the team while in charge of England between 1997 and 2004.

“England had their opponents exactly where they wanted them and Ireland merely played into their hands.”

“Another tactic Ireland needed to employ — and you know what’s coming — was the humble drop goal. Drop back in the pocket and help yourself to a couple of drop goals to start the scoreboard ticking over.

“Lastly, when your lineout is not going well, why take that option when there are alternatives such as quick tapped penalties or rehearsed penalty moves?

“To beat a team who play like England, you must have ways of taking them out of their comfort zone. Take more risks.”

Next up for England is the prospect of Wales in Parc Y Scarlets, and you fancy that Sir Clive is backing England to get the job done there.


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