Mike Ford says Stuart Lancaster's England side must focus on how to negate Ireland’s tackling tactic in Saturday's Six Nations showdown.
England have been warned they must dominate the breakdown if they are to negate Ireland’s highly effective ‘choke tackle’ at Twickenham on Saturday.
Ireland have been leading proponents of the defensive tactic that involves holding a tackled player up off the ground and turning the contact situation into a maul to earning a turnover scrum.
Mike Ford, Bath’s director of rugby who was previously defence coach of both Ireland and then England, believes Stuart Lancaster’s side must attempt to prevent it becoming a factor on Saturday.
Ford witnessed at first hand how disruptive the tactic can be when England lost 24-8 at the Aviva Stadium in 2011 when Martin Johnson’s side were in pursuit of a Grand Slam.
“They caught us out in the 2011 Grand Slam game with choke tackles. We should have paid more attention to it,” said Ford, whose 20-year-old son George is set to make his England debut from the bench on Saturday.
“When you run into traffic, you do either one of two things. You either get the lunch on – that is, getting two people taking the ball into the contact and getting your body angle right – or move the ball away from where their guys are strong.
“If you go into the heart of them, there is every chance they will try their choke tackle. If you are on your own for that split second you have to take your medicine at that particular ruck. You can’t be a man about it because they will get two or three in there and you will lose it.
“The key is to set that ruck up as an attacking platform and then go elsewhere on the next one. As long as you know that, if your body angles are the way you want them to be and players are latching on to the carrier, if you take it to their contact area, where there are three or four [of their defenders], then you can move it away quickly and they are worried then. It is then that you have more options.”
Chris Henry, Peter O’Mahony, Paul O’Connell and Rory Best are among the Irish forwards who excel at the choke tackle but Ford believes that if England can edge the breakdown contest, it could prove the foundation stone for stopping Ireland completing a Triple Crown.
“Ireland are renowned for competing at the breakdown and one of their best at competing is still Brian O’Driscoll,” Ford added. “They are smart and will go borderline on whether it is a penalty or not and will push the boundaries.
“If you don’t get the ruck right in defence or attack, you are going to struggle. The ruck area is going to be key on Saturday. If you get the ball back quick, if you get your ‘cleaners’ there to dominate the ruck area to get the ball away, then you can get one-on-ones.
“I would be focusing massively on the ruck and in doing that you negate the threat of the choke tackle.”
Ford says England must also be smart in defending Ireland’s maul from the line-out, which has proved decisive in their victories over Scotland and Wales.
“You need several ways to defend because they will look to make late switches and move the maul, and that is crucial to stopping it.”
The timely return to fitness of David Wilson, the Bath tight head prop, to replace the injured Dan Cole, will also give England confidence that they can secure the edge on the Ireland scrum, as they did at Twickenham two years ago.
Wilson may have played just 47 minutes for his club since December after sustaining a calf injury, but the 28-year-old, who was preferred to Cole in the starting line-up against Argentina last November, insists he is ready for the challenge.
“I would have liked one more game to get my match fitness up but that’s the way it goes,” said Wilson, who is set to win his 32nd cap on Saturday, said. “I was well tested last week in the scrum, it was a fast game, the pitch was heavy. I worked pretty hard last week so feel I will be 20 to 30 per cent better this week.
“I am aiming to do the basics well – scrum well, line-out well, get through that, go for as long as I can and not let anyone down.”