Fan preview: Ireland v England

Irish fans can be forgiven for being a shade negative about our chances for this weekend, given the way the 2011 version of the Six Nations Championship has gone so far.

We’ve had the upper hand in general play in all four of our matches to date, yet our record reads two narrow wins and two gut-wrenching losses.

And don’t worry. I’m not going to devote any meaningful print space to “that” lineout. I’ve managed to get it out of my system, frustrating though the incident was.

Just a couple of days after our national holiday, Declan Kidney’s men have the opportunity to end our campaign on a positive note by denying the English their first Grand Slam since 2003, and I for one believe they can halt the march of low-swinging chariots at the Aviva Stadium.

Though I felt maybe Luke Fitzgerald was dealt with rather harshly by being dropped from the squad altogether, I am glad the coach was at least willing to make a few tweaks to our backline as they were much needed.

The English haven’t kicked the ball a whole lot so far this time round, but if they sense our full-back won’t be at the top of his game, they’ll seize the chance to secure attacking possession outside our 22 whenever and wherever they get the ball, so we need to show them a different back three.

Keith Earls may not be a full-back by trade, but switching him there will give the opposition something to think about, plus when we have the ball, he is the one Irish back who has shown the greatest desire to break the line and, if Trimble & Bowe can provide adequate support as we know they can, he could reap some telling rewards for us.

Many have questioned the wisdom of “dropping” Ronan O’Gara but I wonder if he was actually dropped?

We all know the varying styles of play out two out-halves can offer, and given that we’re the home side, we have to feel we can open things out against the English defence, so “Jonny 10” was the right call in my book. Once he is told he will only be substituted if he’s struggling, he should have the ability to control the game on home soil and, once Eoin Reddan is fit, fully utilise the presence of his fellow Leinster players around him at 6, 8, 9, 12 & 13.

In the forwards by contrast, I can’t see anywhere that change is needed. I have been particularly impressed with David Wallace at 7 and in Cardiff the overall disciplinary problems have really improved. On paper at least, they have nothing to fear from the opposing pack in any aspect of the game.

On the English side, they have had the luxury of fielding a solid XV so far with only niggling injuries forcing changes. Martin Johnson has them playing as a tight unit as always, plus this year they have found an explosive combination in the back three in Cueto, Foden & the sky-diving Ashton.

Plus I feel the coach has done with Flood and Wilkinson exactly what I suggest we do with Sexton & O’Gara. An out half, much like a quarterback in American football, needs to be able to pull the strings of his offence without too many time constraints and the Leicester 10 has flourished under those conditions.

England’s record may read four wins out of four, but anyone who has watched all of those matches, with the exception of course being their annihilation of Italy, will know a bounce of a ball in a different direction could have taken the Grand Slam off the table.

There’s one thing, however, that has yet to challenge the English – our famous defence, which but for one missed tackle against France has been superb so far. So what Ireland need to do is get in amongst them and bring their A game for the full 80 minutes. And what’s more, I believe we will.

The way I see it, our “magic number” is 20. If we can keep England’s score below that total, by not giving away silly penalties and also not handing them easy possession, we will come out on top. My prediction is for us to win 23-18. Let’s hope I’m right!

JL Pagano

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