Wednesday 18 July 2018

Ian McGeechan: When Garry Ringrose is third-choice No 13, you know you're in good nick

Garry Ringrose of Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile
Garry Ringrose of Ireland. Photo: Sportsfile

Ian McGeechan

If you had said to me at the start of this Six Nations that Ireland would win the title with a game to spare and England would finish fifth, I might have called for the men in white coats to come and take you away. Yet that is now a very serious possibility should England lose to Ireland at Twickenham next Saturday and other results go against them.

I said following England's limp defeat at Murrayfield a fortnight ago that there was no need to panic. And I stand by that. But for a team which has won 24 out of 27 matches, England certainly don't inspire much confidence.

That was another turgid display yesterday. England lacked continuity, they lacked energy, they lacked momentum. They conceded 16 penalties. That statistic alone will be a serious worry for coach Eddie Jones.

Combined with all the knock-ons they managed, that was 20-plus times they handed the ball over to France. Ireland, by contrast, average five penalties conceded per game. When you are that accurate and disciplined, you are always going to be a threat to teams.

But you have to remember that away wins in the Six Nations are not easy to come by. Ireland only just sneaked a win in Paris, and that was the only win by any team away from home (if you discount Rome). That is a great reflection of the competitiveness of this championship. Scotland may not have won in Dublin yesterday, but they showed far more in their 28-8 defeat than England did in their 22-16 loss.

The match in Dublin was great to watch. The two best teams at the breakdown in the northern hemisphere, both going for it, both trying to score tries. It was only Scotland's inability to produce the final pass that cost them.

Had Huw Jones put Stuart Hogg away in the first half, or Peter Horne put Blair Kinghorn or Jones away in the second, that result might well have been different. Those were crucial moments in the game. They didn't, of course. And Ireland showed why they are this year's champions - and why they absolutely deserve to be champions - by taking their chances when they came.

Ireland have moved on tactically in the past 18 months. They can attack teams in a number of ways. They have continuity and experience in the key areas - at half-back, at full-back, in the front row. They have settled partnerships. And young thrusters coming through, chomping at the bit. When your third-choice 13 is Garry Ringrose, you know you are in pretty good nick. He was my man-of-the-match yesterday.

Scotland are still making mistakes, but they have a blueprint for how they want to play. At the moment I don't see that blueprint for England. It is not all doom and gloom. England's record at Twickenham is superb, of course. And Ireland have shown a propensity to leak tries in this tournament.

Schmidt's team conceded one against France, three against Italy, three against Wales, and could have conceded about five against Scotland yesterday. But to attack them you have to generate quick ball and get it to the outside channels. England take an age to do that. They look so one-paced. Even when they get the ball to the outside backs they are not creating much. It is all too static.

They won't be lacking for motivation next Saturday. Ireland have denied them grand slams twice in recent years and they will be desperate to repay the favour. But they are going to have to raise their game an awful lot to do it.

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