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Keeping it simple may not be enough to sack fortress Twickenham

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Peter O'Mahony, Ireland, is tackled by Andrew Coombs, Wales.

Peter O'Mahony, Ireland, is tackled by Andrew Coombs, Wales.

Peter O'Mahony, Ireland, is tackled by Andrew Coombs, Wales.

Two from two and the sense of expectation is already palpable; Ireland is ready to party like it's 2009 all over again.

Beating Wales opened up all sorts of possibilities for Joe Schmidt's team, but he will forget Paris and the romance of the perfect send-off for Brian O'Driscoll for now as London looms large.

When he assembles the core of his troops in Clonmel tomorrow, the New Zealander will begin the operation for beating England at a ground where Wales have been the only Six Nations team to get a result since Tommy Bowe's heroics in 2010.

Saturday's victory certainly offered a platform on which to build, but the game plan that undid Warren Gatland's side does not appear suited to taking down a stubborn English side whose pack are already talking up a "brawl" in 11 days' time.

Twickenham is a ground where nothing comes easy. Ireland have just enjoyed a decade of three wins from five at English rugby's citadel, but the highest margin of victory was the six-point win over Clive Woodward's world champions in 2004 and the other two successes came by virtue of memorable late raids by Shane Horgan in 2006 and Bowe four years later.

Conversely, Ireland defeats in 2008 and 2012 were 23- and 21-point hammerings, the London venue can be unforgiving.

Saturday's win puts Ireland in a position of strength, top of the Six Nations table and brimming with self-belief and following it up at Twickenham would make anything possible, but there is much work to be done.

 

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL

 

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1 MOMENTUM BREEDS CONFIDENCE

"I think momentum gives confidence. Confidence means that you don't need to work too hard to find solutions, you're just confident in what you're doing."

So said Schmidt before this tournament kicked off and the body language of the Irish players as they left the Lansdowne Road field on Saturday suggested they mean business this spring.

After all, this was the first time since 2009 that they put back-to-back wins together in a Six Nations and the frustration at inconsistency that they have all spoken of was taken out on Wales.

None of them will publicly get carried away and one imagines things will be quite calm in Tipperary this week. Ireland have demonstrated a cohesive, simple game plan and the players are all buying into it, scored five tries to nil and are showing plenty of belief.

2 PLATFORM TO DEVELOP

A look back at Schmidt's pre-tournament comments is illuminating; anyone who expected fireworks against Wales and Scotland wasn't listening to the coach.

When he promised to keep it simple the New Zealander wasn't lying, but while there was little intricate about the back play, there was much to admire about the team's technique in the tackle, ruck and maul and their sheer commitment to the job at hand.

They will need to add something behind the scrum to beat England who will be harder to shunt in the tight, but a 100pc return from the line-out and the continued development of scrum options means that the basis for a win can be set.

The next challenge is gaining the fluency to generate scores from open play and the more time they spend in camp together the better.

3 ON-FIELD LEADERSHIP

It has been noticeable over the past fortnight that the Irish captaincy is very much a shared responsibility.

Sure, Paul O'Connell is the main man and Jamie Heaslip an able deputy, but from Rob Kearney's motivational role and the decision making of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton there have been leaders in every area, while provincial leaders like Rory Best and Peter O'Mahony have used the relationships built while leading on provincial duty to get in the ear of the referees.

"A lot of what we do is player driven," Schmidt said on Saturday. "It is great to have a group that drives themselves."

Sexton elaborated yesterday, saying: "It's got a good mixture anyway. It's got a few of the really experienced guys with Paul, Brian, Darce (Gordon D'Arcy), Rory Best, these guys that have won the Grand Slam, won in England, won Triple Crowns.

"Obviously, the other guys underneath that have been in the middle they were on the outskirts of that Grand Slam-winning team. They would have learned a lot from then, but haven't really achieved success. We're hoping to take that next step.

"I think there is the right blend there and we do have the right guy in charge to lead us forward."

 

REASONS TO BE FEARFUL

 

1 ENGLAND'S FORM

They are not the prettiest team in the northern hemisphere and they lack a little for experience, but Lancaster has assembled a hungry and talented group of players with a view to the 2015 World Cup.

Part of their vision for their home tournament is turning Twickenham, where they will face Wales and Australia in next year's tournament, into a fortress.

Having put in two good performances in their successive away games, they will be glad to be back on home soil and will back themselves against Ireland.

The addition of Billy Vunipola adds a ball-carrying threat to the pack that suffocated Ireland last year, but an over-reliance on Dan Coles could be a weakness.

There is little to fear behind the scrum, but after dominating the Scots and Welsh up front, Ireland face a different proposition.

2 THE LACK OF SPARK

Schmidt is keeping it simple given the lack of preparation time, but he will need to expand a little as outmuscling England doesn't appear to be an option.

A theme of the two games so far has been Ireland's dominance of the breakdown on opposition ball, but they have an issue when it comes to their own ball when one of their players breaks through the cover.

Andrew Trimble's neat first-half move was a prime example when the Ulster winger's footwork got him close to the try-line but the support failed to arrive and Wales forced a penalty. The same thing happened a number of times when Ireland went wide against Scotland.

O'Driscoll has had a neat and tidy tournament, but Ireland have yet to provide him with any space and time on the ball.

Sexton's kicking was key to victory last weekend and the callow English wingers will be worth targeting, but quality possession should be capitalised on more and the backline allowed some opportunities to do something more than chase and tackle.

"A lot of our stuff has come off sort of phase play whereas we had a lot of stuff prepped, even against Wales, off first phase," the fly-half said.

"For whatever reason, it just didn't happen. A couple of line-outs that came off the top, they just came through and blocked off the pass from nine to 10.

"We probably haven't shown our hand, which is a positive from our point of view. Most of the moves we practiced we haven't played in the match and we can hopefully pick the ones that might work against England and then pull them off then."

3 STEP UP IN CLASS

Scotland were terrible two weeks ago and Wales, despite their fearsome reputation, looked relatively short of fitness and low on confidence when they pitched up in Dublin.

One thing you could never accuse an England team at Twickenham is a lack of self-belief thumping of chests is already audible from across the Irish Sea.

While there is a sense that Ireland have dominated the old enemy in the recent past, the record of three defeats in a row is a worrying one.

"The last three times we've played them, they've beaten us," Sexton admitted. "That says a lot. We'll be up against it in Twickenham. It will be a big challenge for us."

The difficulty curve remains an upwards one, but Ireland's trajectory is going in the same direction. England will offer more than Wales and Scotland, of that there is no doubt, and the test is to match them.

They've passed every one so far.


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