England’s tactics will be key to Dublin triumph

Chris Robshaw.
Chris Robshaw.
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Keep the ball away from Jonny Sexton and out of the hands of Ireland’s back-row ball carriers.

Easier said than done.

But if England are to triumph in Dublin tomorrow and take a huge step towards a first Six Nations grand slam for 12 years, then their discipline across the field and strength at the breakdown is going to be vital.

This is the firm belief of Sir Ian McGeechan, the successful former British and Irish Lions head coach and Scotland chief.

Now creating a talent pathway for the next generation of this county’s union stars as executive president of Yorkshire Carnegie, McGeechan has some sage advice for Stuart Lancaster, who made his name at the Leeds club.

Lancaster sends his England team out into the white hot atmosphere of the Aviva Stadium in Dublin tomorrow afternoon knowing whoever emerges victorious is on the road to the grand slam.

McGeechan was impressed with how England handled the first bear pit they ventured into three weeks ago, when they won by five points against Wales at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

McGeechan felt the control they elicited in that game was worthy of a wider winning margin, but just to emerge victorious tomorrow, Lancaster’s men need to play better and smarter.

“England have been good so far. It was a big win in Cardiff which set them up well,” said McGeechan.

“But they’ll have to play even better to win in Dublin. I think they’ll have a lot of confidence from what they’ve done so far.

“They mix their game up well, and that’s important, to understand with the personnel you have at your disposal the best game to be playing at any 10-minute stage within the 80, and they’ve done that quite well.”

Ireland are the defending Six Nations champions and currently the highest-ranked northern hemisphere team in the world.

In Joe Schmidt, they have found the perfect coach to get the best out of their talents, and McGeechan believes shutting down the supply line to their superstar fly-half Sexton will be essential.

And England’s pack, particularly their back three of James Haskell, Chris Robshaw and Billy Vunipola, have to match the ferocity that Ireland’s forwards will throw at them.

“Ireland are very competitive at the breakdown and up front, they’re probably the best breakdown team in the Championship,” said McGeechan.

“Chris Robshaw has been outstanding so far in this Championship and will have to continue to be so.

“The England back row, their forwards and ball carriers going into contact, will have to be very accurate because the Irish are very competitive in that area.

“They get turnovers, they’ll pin you back with the kicking game of Sexton who’ll put you in areas where you’re playing 70 metres from the Irish line, so it’s being able to control those areas to be able to impact the game.”

Ireland come into the game on the back of a win over Italy on the opening weekend when they were far from their best, and a victory over France in Dublin last time out, in which they did not once cross the whitewash.

McGeechan continued: “The game against France showed Ireland’s potency; France scored the try but Ireland won the game without scoring a try.

“When you’ve got kickers of the quality of (Leigh) Halfpenny or Sexton, you give them as few opportunities as you can.

“If you are giving penalties away make sure it’s in their half so he can only kick to touch, not kick at your goal.”

One man at the centre of stopping Ireland is Robshaw, who revealed the painful aftermath of last year’s Six Nations title misery is fuelling England’s quest to lift the first piece of silverware of Lancaster’s reign.

Having dispatched Italy 52-11 in Rome, the squad relocated to the post-match dinner near Vatican City to await the 
outcome of the 2014 tournament which hinged on Ireland’s visit to Paris.

Eighty tortuous minutes later, during which France had been cheered to the rafters in a cavernous function room, the Irish were crowned champions by virtue of a points difference of just 11.

Seven tries had been amassed at the Stadio Olimpico, yet it was still not enough to give Robshaw’s devastated England the first taste of glory they still crave.

“The worst bit about last year was probably seeing something like that happen and being photographed at the time and then the next day seeing the two extremes in the way the camps reacted across every paper,” said Robshaw.

“It was tough to take. We wanted France to win which would have made us winners. It’s never nice when it’s out of your hands. You want to control it and be able to influence it.

“When you’re sat there hundreds of miles apart you’re pretty helpless. We all had a beer together after and said ‘we’ve got to continue learning from this’.

“We are getting better but it’s one thing getting better, you’ve got to be picking up that silverware. Silverware matters to everyone. As a player you want to be judged on what you’ve won. It’s all well and good picking up caps and playing x amount of times for your country, which is incredible, but you want to win stuff.

“You want to win stuff for your country and be top of the pile come the end. No matter what it is, no matter what competition you’re playing, you always want to be seen as successful.

“Both sides know what this game means. We are fully aware that if you come out on top you put yourself in a very good position. So that’s exactly what we’ve got to do.”