After thrashing Scotland on Saturday, for the third time in Six Nations history England go into the fifth and final week of the Championship needing to beat Ireland to achieve a coveted Grand Slam. If they do so they become the first team in history to win two Grand Slams in a row and the first team to have won 19 consecutive top flight test matches. FCapitalSport looks at how they can achieve the remarkable:
1) Consistency of effort and focus for the entire 80 minutes:
Too often England go missing for parts of the match. While they were able to rectify their seemingly inability to have a good start to a match against Scotland there were still periods of that match where England lost their focus and intensity. It was poor defending that allowed Gordon Reid and Huw Jones to cross for their tries. With Ireland likely to be incredibly determined to end English dreams of success in Dublin, they cannot afford any lapses in concentration.
2) Match and overcome the Irish back-row:
The trio of Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip and CJ Stander make up the best back row in European rugby. They have proved to be extremely durable and one cannot question the sheer unmatched power that O’Brien and Stander bring to their side. James Haskell showed his lack of match-fitness on Saturday with a number of missed tackles and he would have been disappointed that he was unable to stop a rampaging Reid on the way on the try line. He will need to be on top of his game on Saturday as will Maro Itoje and Nathan Hughes (should he start over Billy Vunipola which is certainly not a guarantee). While Itoje has steadily improved his form throughout the tournament and looks to be in good shape for the test that awaits, Hughes will need to perform much better than he has done and punch many more holes in the opposition defence than he has done so far.
3) Be absolutely ruthless
Ruthlessness is different to consistency. England should not only make their tackles they should be knocking Ireland back behind the gain-line. Similarly in attack they will need to make their chances count and bring their passing and running incisiveness from the Scotland game to the Aviva. Nonetheless England should also not be satisfied with setting themselves the goal of a scrappy win, even if that ensures a record second consecutive Grand Slam. They should want to beat Ireland convincingly to prove that could realistically go toe to toe with the All Blacks. To do so would be a tremendous statement of intent and total proof of their elevation in the world game since the demise of Stuart Lancaster. It was good to see that against Scotland, despite having already scored 54 points they avoided the temptation to end the game there and instead chased a seventh try. Much like how the England side of ’03 vintage beat the men in green 42-6 to clinch their Grand Slam, England should seek to do the same.
By Charles Dew