Will Ireland win the Grand Slam?

Ireland face an intriguing task ahead at Twickenham on Saturday, where they will compete for the Grand Slam leaving England looking to recover their lost pride.

On an 11 win streak and now the World Rugby number two team, Ireland have given clinical performances and shown that they can force teams into submission.

In this article, I break down what’s working so well for them and what challenges they may face on the final weekend.

Finishing Opportunities

The scoreline of the Ireland v Scotland match hide what was actually a tight game; Scotland dropped the ball or threw it into touch whenever they had big opportunities.

If these passes had gone to hand, the scoreline would have been a lot closer.

Both teams had an almost identical successful-ruck rate and a difference of two clean breaks. This shows how Ireland have the ability to finish crucial moments and get the points on the board.

Ireland’s reliance on scoring from line breaks was shown during France v Ireland where Ireland were unable to score because they couldn’t get past the defence, making zero clean breaks.

While England made six clean breaks against France, they only had a higher score of three points.

Crucially this means that if Ireland can break the gain line, they will score. Jacob Stockdale is in sensational form out wide, and is finding the white line often after waves of Irish pressure

Will England’s defence hold up?

England’s defence improved somewhat after their humiliation in Murrayfield as they had a successful tackle rate of 90% against France.

However, they almost let past as many Blues and had almost as many defenders beaten. While there are questions to be had in their defensive line, the fundamental problem is their ruck support.

They had a 93% success rate against France and 91% against Scotland. To put this in perspective, even when Italy lost 56 – 19 to Ireland, they maintained a ratio of 98% at the ruck.

Ireland’s defence has been very robust in the tight this Six Nations; it’s in the outside channels that they are defensively weak.

Wales were able to score three tries from barely any possession and field position. Save for some substandard passing, Scotland could have had as many tries.  Italy were also able to rack a few up out wide.

However, barring their opening game against Italy, England have severely struggled to play with any speed and width this tournament. This may be the saving grace for Ireland this weekend.

Ireland are great at exploiting the breakdown

Ireland are perhaps the world leaders in ball retention. This was shown in the final play of the game against the French when they were able to keep the ball for over forty phases for Johnny Sexton’s drop goal.

England, on the other hand, have a chronic inability to turn the ball over. Expect Ireland to have long periods of possession on Saturday.

As I have said, their ability to to turn pressure into points may be too much for England.

Unless Eddie Jones’ men can find a way to steal ball, or at least slow it down, it may be a tough day in the office for them.

On paper, this is Ireland’s Grandslam to lose this weekend.

Will they be able to overcome the Twickenham factor this weekend?

They have before and they can do it again with the experience and control they have in the team but there is always a word of warning: beware the wounded animal.

Written by Tim Copeland and Josh Raisey

Image: The Irish Times

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