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Proudfoot and Ford are full of praise for ‘dominant’ Ireland


England assistant coach Matt Proudfoot was full of compliments about Ireland’s pack. Photo: Reuters

England assistant coach Matt Proudfoot was full of compliments about Ireland’s pack. Photo: Reuters

England assistant coach Matt Proudfoot was full of compliments about Ireland’s pack. Photo: Reuters

Matt Proudfoot was in the room when Rassie Erasmus made his infamous speech to the Springboks ahead of their World Cup semi-final against Wales.

The big South African is now in an England tracksuit and he laughs down the line as he’s asked if he agrees with the opinion of his ex-boss that Ireland are “softies”.

Given he’s about to send a pack out to face Andy Farrell’s men, it’s no surprise that he distanced himself from the remarks.

Proudfoot, instead, went on the charm offensive; offering up a stream of compliments to an Irish pack that has come off second best against English opposition the last three times the sides have met.

“I don’t share his sentiment, no,” he said, arguing that Erasmus’s messages were was purely designed to motivate his players and shouldn’t be taken at face value.

“Ireland are very dominant. I sat up straight watching the way they scrum (against Wales), how good they were.


“You don’t have a guy like Tadhg Furlong in your front-row, you’ve lost Rory Best yet they are still dominant. There is a lot right, there is a lot the guys who are coming in are doing right.

“I’ve coached Jean Kleyn, I’ve coached Quinn Roux (at the Stormers), I know how physical they are. If those guys are on the fringes, then there’s a lot right in the pack.

“CJ Stander has been a standout physical performer and you can take him out of the side and the performance actually increases.

“That’s my impression of them, they are very smart and very dominant.

“James Ryan is maybe inexperienced as a captain but he’s very experienced as a player and performing really well.

“If you look across the pack it’s going to be really tough for position. Look at Cian Healy, 100 caps, (Andrew) Porter’s been scrummaging really well. (Iain) Henderson, Ryan, both in the second-row. They have incredible depth.

“I think from our perspective how we match man for man is going to be an important aspect. I don’t think there’s one guy in the Irish side we are putting an extra focus on, it’s just for each of our forwards to be at his best to challenge his immediate opposition.

“That’s the main thing, they can pressurise you at scrum time, they can pressurise at the lineout, they have a great maul. A high percentage of their lineout goes to maul. They look to pressurise you constantly up front.

“That’s been our discussion, we need to match man for man or else they can get an advantage the way they did in the game against Wales.”

While England’s dominance has been established up front, they’ve also had the edge on Ireland tactically and defensively in recent meetings.

Over the summer, George Ford said of playing Ireland, “wherever Sexton is, that’s where the ball is going” of Ireland’s attack.

If he proves his fitness, the out-half will be facing Ross Byrne on Saturday, but he reckons Andy Farrell has moved the visiting team’s game on.

“A lot of things go through the 10 in attack, but even more so with someone like Johnny Sexton; the player he is,” he said.

“Having watched Billy Burns and Ross, it’s pretty much the same thing . . . it’s not every time the ball is coming to where the 10 is but it’s probably more often than not that that is the case.

“I think Ireland have probably developed and mixed their variety up a bit more attack-wise in terms of going down short side and playing a little more trying to go to the edges and stuff. It’s something we’re going to have to be aware of defensively.”

Ford, Ben Youngs and Owen Farrell have had huge success with their kicking game against the Irish back-three and Hugo Keenan is the fourth different full-back to start in this fixture in recent times, following Robbie Henshaw in the 2019 Six Nations, Rob Kearney in the World Cup warm-up defeat and Jordan Larmour earlier this year.

“It’s funny, the kicking game gets spoken about a lot but it’s actually the intent to run first with the ball that opens kicking space up,” Ford said. “So we need to get momentum, speed of ball and have options across the field to get the ball into space at the right time and manipulate the back-field. That’s pretty much the order it goes.

“It’s not a case of ‘right, let’s go try find space in the back-field’ from the very off, there’s a process. We need to make sure that our detail in attack, plus our intent and our breakdown is better as Ireland are very good at the breakdown.”

Despite their superiority in recent meetings, England are saying all the right things.

“You’ve got to have a tad bit of fear in you  that if you’re not quite there Ireland will make you pay,” Ford said. “Our preparation this week is going to be as good as it’s ever been, even better to make sure that’s the case again.”