So this is it, the final game of the Red Roses’ Six Nations campaign. They’ve had a good tournament so far, with resounding wins against Scotland and Wales, while their second-half comeback to beat France in the opening week showed resilience. Only against Italy did they look at all uncomfortable, but they still managed to score nearly twice as many points as their opponents.
So with four wins from four, England go into the final game with the Grand Slam in their sights. However, their opponents are also seeking a Grand Slam, and they will be a tough test. Playing the Irish is never easy, and playing them in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day will surely test the Red Roses’ mettle.
However, England have an experienced squad with World Cup-winning players aplenty, so they shouldn’t be phased by the occasion. They’ve also been playing some great rugby over the past few weeks, culminating in last week’s win against Scotland. They will need to show the same accuracy in their passing, urgency at the ruck and co-operation at the set piece to overcome this Ireland team.
The rolling maul has been a thing of beauty and has resulted in plenty of tries for the Red Roses. How Ireland deal with this will have a large impact on the game, as if they’re able to nullify it, England will have to find other ways of getting across the gain-line and sucking in forwards.
Another area in which England excel is in the back-line. In centres Emily Scarratt and Amber Reed, and full-back Danielle Waterman, the Red Roses have world-class players and their ability to create tries out wide will be crucial. Additionally, England’s wingers are no strangers to the try line, both having crossed numerous times already during the tournament. The Red Roses are very good at stretching the defence and creating overlaps out wide, and Ireland will have to drift well to stop them.
However, one thing that has let England down is their performance between 50-70 minutes. In the games against Wales, Italy and Scotland, there was a definite dip in performance midway through the second half, where they lost the fluidity of their attack and let simple errors such as knock-ons creep into their game. These blunders also led to the opposition enjoying more territory and possession, and in all three games, this was the period in which England’s try line was most threatened.
This period of lessened intensity can partly be put down to substitutions, which have often rejigged the back-line. However, against Ireland, they cannot afford to let themselves drop off, as the Irish are sure to punish them, and with the quality they have in their team it could be the difference between winning or losing.
Furthermore, the Red Roses’ defence has not really been tested since the first half of the opening match against France, and there is no doubting that Ireland will be a fierce challenge. England will have to be switched on and hit hard, but in back rowers Sarah Hunter and Marlie Packer, and substitute Vicky Fleetwood, they have three excellent poachers who will be key to disrupting Irish ball.
Ireland have a great poacher of their own in flanker Claire Molloy, and in the back-line, their centres Jenny Murphy and Sene Naoupu have been forging a great partnership. However, the Irish haven’t exactly fired on all cylinders so far. They just edged out Scotland with a last-minute try and won close games against France and Wales, but they battle hard right to the end of matches and their fitness is obviously good. They will also want to impress the home crowd ahead of the World Cup, which kicks off in Dublin in August.
The last time the two sides met in the Autumn, the Red Roses won 12 – 10, a McLean conversion the difference. If Ireland turn up, it will be a similarly close match, and with the Grand Slam on the line for both sides, it’s sure to be a fantastic spectacle.
Kick off: Friday 17th March @ 8pm, Donnybrook Stadium, Dublin
How to watch: Live on englandrugby.com, Sky Sports Mix and RTE
Scotland v Italy – Friday 17th March at Broadwood Stadium – KO 18:20 GMT – Live on Eurosport IT
France v Wales – Saturday 18th March at Stade Amédée Domenech, Brive – KO 21:00 local (20:00 GMT) – Live on France 4