Saturday 24 March 2018

Twickenham battle is a real litmus test

HOPEFULLY, there are long debates over team selection when the Irish management meets on a Monday night before the Tuesday team announcements.

The selections would appear to suggest the opposite, though. A widely held perception is that Declan Kidney is conservative. That label does hold some merit. However, I'm fairly sure that all selection meetings throw up some heated discussions, resulting in some very tight calls.

Kidney has definitely been consistent and has shown courage when all and sundry have been screaming out for him to make changes, especially after the poor start to the Six Nations campaign.

The selection of Sean O'Brien over Peter O'Mahony was a big call, but was expected by most. The seeding issue in relation to the RWC in 2015 is obviously the main priority at this moment.

If the coveted goal of a top-eight seeding is achieved, it should be interesting to see how much more Kidney experiments. There will be three years or so to blood more new talent.

It has to be noted that all the players, especially captain Rory Best, displayed some great leadership in relation to key decisions against Scotland.

The knock-on effect was obviously felt and embraced by all. That will be a massive plus in the long term, as the two absent Lions captains, amongst others, approach the end of their careers.

There was always a case that both Donnacha Ryan and Peter O'Mahony should have been picked on merit rather than as a result of others' misfortune.

I would agree with the premise that the new players, who remain hot on the heels of the more established team members, should be given a shot more often than not.

For example, there was a very strong case to drop Jamie Heaslip, who has probably not been on top of his game since the World Cup.

We have seen flashes of his old self, but the case for O'Brien at eight with O'Mahony retaining the seven berth was overwhelming for this week's encounter.

If such a situation unfolded it would have forced Heaslip to raise his game. Instead, it looks as if all of the young incumbents have to learn to produce consistent form in order to have any chance of ousting the more established stars.

After last weekend you sensed that the incentive for Ireland is there heading into Saturday's match in light of the arrogant lap of honour by England after their win in Paris.

Whether it was by accident or design, it was a poor show, considering nothing has been won.


Whether Stephen Ferris meant what he said in relation to England being bad losers, or some in the Irish management continuing to poke at referee failings, we are not coming out in a good light.

In relation to the refereeing issues, if we continue to get on their backs, whether we are right or wrong, they are more likely to back their own corners even more.

Ireland have been right to highlight valid points, but I believe we would be better served if we did it behind closed doors.

Tomorrow's game will depend much on what happens up front. Both defences look solid and with some drizzle forecast it could come down to the wire.

I think Keith Earls' defence has improved out of sight so, hopefully, Manu Tuilagi gets little change from a player who is beginning to grow into his adopted position.

England do look particularly strong at the breakdown and on the ground. They frustrated the French last weekend but it was not helped by the latter attacking so laterally.

You may recall that England got the upper hand in that area in the August pre-World Cup match.

Ireland may have to raise the bar again in terms of line breaks in order to defeat their great rivals. If both sides nullify each other, it will come down to points at goal.

A win will do little for Ireland in terms of the Six Nations table, but will shed much more light on how far they have actually come since the Welsh game.

Ireland have only beaten Scotland and Italy at home, despite all the positive statistics in relation to tries scored and line breaks created.

The omens look good but this weekend is the real litmus test.

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