Sport Rugby

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Bowe holds his hand up to lead fresh backline assault

We must kick on from England setback with an expansive game against Italy, writes Jim Glennon

Tommy Bowe, Ireland
Tommy Bowe, Ireland

Jim Glennon

Regardless of whether we might like to feel that ours are a more talented bunch of players who may not have done themselves justice, the simple fact remains that Ireland were beaten last week by a talented, focused and well-coached English team.

Stuart Lancaster is now emerging as a coach of real quality. He is what could be described as a career coach, never a star player, although he did captain Leeds. He then began his career managing their academy. Reading through his CV, one is reminded of Eddie O'Sullivan or Brian McLaughlin; he progressed through the RFU ranks, coaching successfully at international age grade and A levels and when the chaotic regime of Martin Johnson came to its ignominious end, he was the logical choice.

Since taking the reins in 2012, he has overseen two second-placed finishes in the Six Nations with eight wins from the 10 games played, and an impressive win over New Zealand in the 2012 November Series. They may be the team whom most of us like to dislike, but England under Lancaster command respect, if not admiration.

Their rugby may not be flashy, but we weren't complaining when Ireland were grinding out wins over Scotland and Wales. Admittedly, there may be a higher degree of subtlety and skill to many of the Irish players but as a unit we came off second-best last weekend. While the game was, at times, unbearably tight, I couldn't help but be reminded of the Irish performance against Wales.

Then the Irish intensity, defensive line, and aggression – as well as the obvious tactical successes – paved the way for a resounding victory; right from the outset in Twickenham, Irish ball-carriers and distributors were under extreme pressure, often playing behind the gain line, and being knocked backwards by the line-speed of the English defence.

While we enjoyed the somewhat novel experience of a superior scrum at Twickenham the suspicion lingers that we didn't sufficiently exploit this supremacy. We had our moments of class, too, but we can have no arguments with the final outcome. Disappointing perhaps, but we should remember that we are still only six games into Joe Schmidt's tenure, and remain on a firmly upward curve.

The championship is still alive and thoughts now turn to Italy. Most would have expected a home win for them against Scott Johnson's chaotic Scottish operation but they somehow managed to let it slip. In all honesty, they should not present much of a problem for Ireland in terms of the result so the main issues relate simply to team selection.

Second guessing Joe Schmidt is a foolhardy exercise given his track record in Ireland, but change is opportune at this point. It's time for something fresh. Up front, we could see Martin Moore getting his maiden start and there may well be a rotation in the second row too. Peter O'Mahony is a doubt but, if he's declared fit, I wouldn't expect any changes in jerseys 6, 7 or 8.

Behind the scrum is another story – points differential will be crucial. The news of Johnny Sexton's thumb injury is a concern and his absence would be a major blow but we should be capable of overcoming Italy at home without him. Paddy Jackson would almost certainly step in and it would be a significant setback for the Schmidt regime, and indeed for Jackson himself, were he to be found lacking in the pivotal position at home to Italy.

There was an expectation ahead of the England game that an expansion of our game plan from the mauling and kicking bases to a somewhat wider

emphasis would be necessary to get the win and, notwithstanding the disappointment, the importance of points differential dictates that this should remain the case. In Andrew Trimble and Dave Kearney we possess two tough and effective carriers; neither are game-breakers though and while both have performed very well, change may be imminent. Much has been spoken of Simon Zebo and how he fits with the Schmidt game plan but with Tommy Bowe proving his well-being with a brace of tries at Ravenhill on Friday night and Luke Fitzgerald back in contention too, a new pair of wingers wouldn't surprise in the slightest. Indeed it may even be a case of Bowe and which of the others?

Twickenham was a disappointment, there's no getting away from it, but we're still alive and kicking with all to play for – we should be heading to Paris looking for a possible championship.

We would have taken that if it was offered before the tournament started, wouldn't we?

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