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FEATURE Ben Kay: 'For England to win, they need the crowd in full voice and willing them over the line'

Ben Kay: 'For England to win, they need the crowd in full voice and willing them over the line'
4 months ago

The Scotland game was England’s most disappointing performance for some time, and that’s saying something.

There’s a corny adage in performance circles that there are no mistakes only opportunities to learn but boy do England need to learn quickly – because they’re facing, arguably, the best team in the world. Yes, the Springboks are No 1 in the world technically – and I can understand South African fans saying, ‘big teams do it when it matters’ – but in terms of consistency over the last few years, Ireland have few, if any, peers.

So why are Ireland so difficult to beat and do England have any kind of chance? England are in something of a quandary because they’re in the middle of changing their defensive system under Felix Jones. That’s caused teething issues in that it causes hesitation, whereas Ireland know each other and their systems so well that they almost have a telepathic sixth sense with or without the ball.

I’ve said it before in this column that hesitation equates to form, because if a side are not 100 per cent confident and running on motor memory, they’ll miss the gilt-edged opportunities, and by proxy give the opposition chances out of nowhere. Take Duhan (van der Merwe’s) first try. A misread in midfield saw Slade fly out of the line to target the backfield options while inside defenders held tight. Sione Tuipulotu fed Huw Jones to exploit the gap and pop it up to England’s bête noire, all in less than nine seconds. Then you had his second try where the ball ricocheted off George Furbank’s chest into Jones’ hands, again, and Duhan raced away to further drive a stake into England’s chances.

Duhan Van der Merwe
Duhan Van der Merwe exposed all of England’s weaknesses in a devastating display of power play (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Now I could see what England were trying to do. Borthwick will have said, ‘we’re going to go into this game and play the way no one expects us to do’. It started so well, and Furbank’s try was poetry in motion. I was loving it, but moments of doubt caused the errors to creep in and belief drained from England’s faces. There is a cumulative effect of this hesitation, a lineout not perfectly delivered means the No 9’s pass is not quite perfectly timed which then effects the first receivers transfer and the further the ball is shifted without this fluidity the more likely a glaring error is. This lack of flow has been why England have played so little rugby up until Murrayfield, as no one wants to throw an ‘error’ pass. With the gameplan demanding England play, errors became more obvious and ended with Ollie Lawrence passing the ball into touch. Mistakes throughout the team had become contagious.

What it showed us was that England cannot dominate the narrative throughout the game, simply because they’re not ready. There’s too much work to do under the bonnet right now. I don’t think they went in with the wrong gameplan but when it started to unravel they didn’t have that unshakeable trust in themselves to adapt tactically in the way an Ireland team would. It’s unpalatable for England fans, but it’s where the squad currently are.

When assessing how they should approach the Ireland game, there should be a marked difference. England don’t have to have the ball. When Ireland lose – which isn’t often – the teams that prevail kick more often and win more turnovers.

When assessing how they should approach the Ireland game, there should be a marked difference. England don’t have to have the ball. When Ireland lose – which isn’t often – the teams that prevail kick more often and win more turnovers. That was certainly the case against New Zealand in the World Cup.

England need to go hard at the breakdown, and slow Ireland’s ruck speed down, otherwise their momentum will snowball. What we’ve seen is carriers like (Andrew) Porter and (Joe) McCarthy starting by making little dents. Yet Ireland keep passing the ball, because they’re not expecting one-off runners to win the collisions immediately and get quick ball without a fight. Instead they’ll shift the ball with an extra pass and not stress individuals decision making, causing hesitation for the defenders rather than the attack, whether that’s just between the forwards, or in the backline. They’ll judge what the defence are doing knowing they want to get outside the heart of a defence where they could be dominated physically. Even standing still for three passes to somehow manage to find a way around a blitz – as they did against Wales with Bundee Aki’s disallowed try – and find easy metres and momentum outside it. It becomes very difficult to halt. I can’t stress this enough, England need to stop Ireland at source.

Ryan Baird
Ireland are relentless and pushed and prodded the Welsh defence until it could hold out no longer (Photo Tim Clayton/Getty Images)

To emerge victorious, England have to turn the game into a dogfight. They have to go back to that kicking game with George Ford and hope that when they throw Marcus (Smith) on the final quarter, he contrive to win it. I would expect them to go back to a really strong aerial game in the middle third of the pitch where they’ll kick to compete and look to snaffle turnovers there. They’ll have the likes of (Ben) Earl and (Maro) Itoje and (Sam) Underhill scavenging for turnover and even if they don’t achieve it, they’ll try to slow Gibson-Park’s ball down to buy the defensive line decision time. Underhill and Itoje are second and third behind Tommy Reffell in the Championship for turnovers, so they have the ability to spoil. Selection-wise, it wouldn’t surprise me if they put Martin in the engine room and (Ollie) Chessum at 6.

Once they’ve fashioned a turnover, and the transition goes from defence to attack, the problem England have right now is they rarely do anything with it. It’s usually fed to a one off runner to crash it up but in my opinion at least, they need to use that opportunity to stretch a defence with at least a couple of passes to shift away from the oppositions comfort zone. If it was me, I’d be picking some stardust like Feyi-Waboso. I thought was outstanding when he came on. I know he’s a bit raw but I want England to pick him for what he can do rather than what he can’t do. He has some X-factor to exploit any leaden-footed Irish defenders and get him involved off his wing as much as possible. I know Elliot (Daly) has all that experience but it’s not like England have been error-free in defence. The new system is basically the same as Exeter’s, which Manny is used to doing. With Slade inside him communicating, he’ll manage. He may even be comfortable than the experienced players who are adapting!

Catty’s really good on the detail around passing and has imbued in his boys the confidence to take risks. They will throw passes that other teams in the Northern hemisphere overthink and if it’s on they won’t hesitate because they’re backed to do it.

For every problem you solve, however, Ireland always seem to have the tools to find another way. If you spread the defensive line wide, they punch holes up the middle with a forward drive. They’re so tactically smart. England just have to be in it with 10-15 minutes to go and the Twickenham crowd – who are not expecting a home win – will play their part. I’d actually worry more if England were leading with 10 to go, because I’m sure not they’d have the belief to be able to close it out as Ireland chased them down. For England to win, they need to be on the shoulder, with the crowd in full voice and willing them over the finish line.

Looking at the Ireland management, it’s amazing to see how well the former England coaches have done. Mike Catt has done wonders with Ireland’s backline. As a bloke, he’s quiet, affable and everyone likes him. He has quite a few strings to his bow, but he’s undoubtedly benefitted from Stuart Lancaster’s guidance at Leinster. He knew Lanny from his England days and their sharp rugby brains align. They’re on the same page along with Wig (Rowntree) at Munster and Faz (Andy Farrell). Catty’s really good on the detail around passing and has imbued in his boys the confidence to take risks. They will throw passes that other teams in the Northern hemisphere overthink and if it’s on they won’t hesitate because they’re backed to do it. There’s none of this, ‘I’ll get a bollocking if it doesn’t come off’. Catty has complete faith in their ability.

Steve Borthwick Andy Farrell
Steve Borthwick and Andy Farrell maybe facing each other but they have worked together as players and coaches and compliment each other (Photo By Brendan Moran/ Getty Images)

As for Andy Farrell, he is a guy who instils belief. I’m speaking hypothetically, but if England could pick their best coaching line up – and it will never happen for a number of reasons – they’d probably have Farrell as their Director of Rugby, Borthwick as head coach keeping an eye on the forwards and Shaun Edwards as their defence coach. The reason he’s beaten New Zealand more than anyone else is because of the confidence he brings into his squad. Fate has taken a different course and Borthwick is now a bonafide No 1. I don’t think he’ll go back to a No 2 and rightly so, he deserves his shot. Both men have different psyches and skillsets, and I actually think they’d dovetail really nicely because of their complimentary traits.

Borthers’ biggest challenge now is to inject whatever it is Andy Farrell gives to this Ireland squad and turns them into world beaters. England just need a couple of flashes of inspiration to kickstart a renaissance because it has to start somewhere. Unlike Leicester when they were losing games and Borthers talked about being on a journey, but ultimately ended up overachieving by winning the Premiership, the problem in Test rugby is that you don’t have the time with players to build your reputation and foundations.

Farrell is outstanding with the media and people buy into him as an individual. You don’t feel the public have really got behind Borthers yet – he hasn’t had that defining moment which has rubberstamped his legacy

I think Steve Borthwick will be backed by the RFU but they can’t control how much noise comes from the fans and media. It certainly wasn’t ideal to hear murmurs coming out of the changing room earlier in the week about the dissatisfaction in their training methods.

Correspondingly, Farrell is outstanding with the media and people buy into him as an individual. You don’t feel the public have really got behind Borthers yet – he hasn’t had that defining moment which has rubberstamped his legacy. It doesn’t help that he looks like the media side of things is a chore to get out of the way quickly without actually saying anything of note. It’s not his bag. He will never have the type of personality to change that, but say that,  installing Jamie George to replace Owen Farrell was a masterstroke because of his authenticity and likeability in front of camera. That appointment will help the narrative around the side.

England v Ireland
England last tasted victory over Ireland at Twickenham in 2020, emerging victorious after a 24-12 win (Photo by Tom Jenkins/Getty Images)

To sum up, with two games left, all fans want to see is a progression, but after the Scotland performance we have yet to see it. It’s going to be so tough against Ireland. They’re underdogs and no one is giving them a chance, which the players and coaches might enjoy. However, England could equally have their best performance of the tournament but if Ireland’s attack clicks three or four times, it could end up in a heavy loss and everyone will write England off and bury them in criticism. If England stay within a score, that’s a slight progression to take to France and win in Lyon. They have a genuine opportunity to get an away win on French soil for the first time since 2016, but there are no guarantees. The next few weekends will tell us a lot about what this England side are all about.

Comments

10 Comments
A
Anthony 127 days ago

BEN .
The only way England can actually win is for george the boot kicking 10 drop goals .
Thats progress .
Otherwise .

B
Bull Shark 128 days ago

For England to win, they’ll need to score more points than Ireland.

To do that, they’ll need to score more tries and convert more of their kicks at goal.

They’ll also need to keep Ireland from scoring as much as possible.

Easy game.

S
Sumkunn Tsadmiova 128 days ago

'For England to win, they need the crowd in full voice and willing them over the line'

Maybe not throwing the ball away 25 times (22 of which were happily collected by the Jocks/South African) would also be helpful…..

T
Turlough 128 days ago

For England to win they must score the first try. If Ireland score first and get a 7-10 point lead the game goes out of England's control. They will chase the game, turnover penalties and concede maul tries as well as back line tries.
England must start well and must score first.

A
Andrew 128 days ago

I remember watching England get destroyed by NZ in the SA World Cup when the late great Jonah Lomu scored 2 tries in the 1st 5 minutes.
I think at half time Jack Rowell must have told his team to go out, play some rugby, don't worry about the scoreline and enjoy yourselves in the second half. Because that's what they did and in doing so outplayed the All Blacks with some thoroughly entertaining rugby.
Maybe that's England's best game plan. Go out , play the game you love, enjoy yourselves and let the scoreline speak for itself.
You got this!

C
Clive 128 days ago

To beat the Ireland International Select all England have to do is pick the right team, start strong then cut out the stupid mistakes. With Borethick in charge there is no chance of any of that happening.

If England attack with vigour and purpose the crowd will get into the game albeit in a daytripper corporate kind off way.

The biggest issue, as always, will be the inability of referees to see the green shirted in offside positions or pulling their intimidation game plan.

C
Chris 128 days ago

England will need a miracle 😆, good luck to them!

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