Thursday 29 June 2017

We always raise our game against England - and raucous home crowd will help

'Nora Stapleton has really held us together. She’s now playing with her third different No 9 and we need other backs to improve their decision-making and creativity to provide her with more options.' Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
'Nora Stapleton has really held us together. She’s now playing with her third different No 9 and we need other backs to improve their decision-making and creativity to provide her with more options.' Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Fiona Coghlan

As a player I always wanted to pit myself against England. Firstly it was always fast, clean rugby and secondly, they were Six Nations champions for years and had been World Cup finalists three times.

They were the standard-bearers and I believe Ireland will relish that opportunity again tonight, even with the Grand Slam at stake.

I remember playing in Twickenham in 2004. We lost 50-10 but just scoring two tries against them was a little victory. That is no longer good enough.

Every time our scoreline improved against England we used that as a barometer and, eventually, we beat them 25-0 to win the 2013 Grand Slam.

But tonight's decider has a very different context. They're the reigning World Champions, haven't won the Six Nations since 2012 and have a stronger team than last year.

Their 15s are fully professional since January. They train full-time, compared to our players who only come into camp before each game, as they did on Wednesday.

England beat Scotland 64-0 last week, despite being without their first-choice No 9 (Natasha Hunt, injured) and 10 (Katie McLean, who is suspended).

People will say 'look at that scoreline!' but Scotland were without a number of key players and remember, France beat Scotland 55-0 and came here and lost!

Apart from the 2014 World Cup semi-final, when we imploded after 15 minutes, Ireland have always upped their game against England,

Regardless of the result we've always produced a performance and I believe the girls will rise their game to meet them again tonight.

England do have superior backs: Amber Reed at 12 is a real distributor, full-back Danielle Waterman is electric and Emily Scarratt, at 13, is truly world-class.

Our lineout wasn't as good last week and our scrum was vulnerable at times but I believe we can match their pack if we repeat that outstanding performance against France.

So far Ireland have shown a doggedness and got across the line but there's been a lack of creativity out the backs.

Nora Stapleton has really held us together. She's now playing with her third different No 9 and we need other backs to improve their decision-making and creativity to provide her with more options.

Set-pieces are the key to frustrating England, plus slowing down the ball so that their backs have far less time on it.

Italy, who lost 29-15 to England, attacked them and changed their game up so I imagine Ireland might have a few surprises in store.

It shouldn't be 'how do we stop England?' but 'how do we attack England?' in both attack and defence.

They have never played in Donnybrook before, it's a double-header and expected to be a 6,000 sell-out - all real positives for us.

If tonight's game is close, the crowd will be so important. It's up to the team first to get it close, and then the crowd to get behind them.

Irish Independent

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