The White Orcs

Stuart Lancaster’s White Orcs are hosting Ireland on Saturday, and it’s Ireland’s most important match since their last important match, against Wales the previous Sunday.  That impressive win has set Ireland up for a tilt at the triple crown and it would be a great feeling if Ireland could lock down silverware halfway through the championship, especially with Italy coming up in round four.

What can we expect from these maginificent rose-clad yeomen?  Well, while Stuart Lancaster is building towards 2015 and has embedded a sense of humility in the playing pool, his team are built on pretty traditional English rugby values of solid work ethic and a reasonable dollop of ‘boot and bollock’.  They’ve a kicking 10 and a fairly brutish pack of forwards.  The backline looks inexperienced, but the two boys in the centres are great big fellows.

They’ve a problem at tighthead prop.  It’s almost as if the tighthead crisis baton has been passed over.  The awful news about Dan Cole having to take an indefinite hiatus from the game affects them grievously.  The next in line looks to be Bath’s David Wilson but he’s never looked like somebody who can be a real force at this level.  He’s from the Mike Ross school of natural fitness and he’s just back from injury.  Most likely he needs a good few matches to get up to match fitness.  The alternative is Henry Thomas, who plays for Sale but is a rookie at this, or any level.

Before we get too excited, he’s probably had more game experience than Marty Moore, but Marty Moore will be on the bench, not potentially starting.  It’s a problem.  Advantage Ireland in the scrum against England?  Wonders will never cease.  The Awesome Power of Dylan Hartley and The Awesome Power of Joe Marler round out the front row and both are having good series.  There’s depth at hooker where Tom Youngs is a fine player, but The Awesome Power of Mako Vinupola, while potentially explosive in the loose, proved a penalty-expensive replacement against France (and in the Liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiions series).

England’s second row is big on physical attributes and athleticism.  The Awesome Power of Courtney Lawes and The Awesome Power of Joe Launchbury lack nothing in terms of physicality.  Do they have the heads for it?  When Paul O’Connell unleashes his unique brand of controlled chaos, with no ruck safe from his explosive clearing out, will these two inexperienced forwards be able for it? The Awesome Power of Courtney Lawes has form when it comes to disappearing when the heat is on, but then some day he won’t.  We’ve all seen the strength of the Irish maul, and presumably these two chaps will be looking to stop that at source.

In the backrow, there’s another key ingredient missing: Thoroughbred Racehorse Tom Croft.  The Awesome Power of Chris Robshaw and The Awesome Power of Tom Wood are fine players, but they’re both similar workers in the six-and-a-half mould.  Ideally you’d like one of them on the openside flank and Tom Croft on the other, to bring a real running threat.  But he’s not here, and Wood and Robshaw won’t lack for workrate.  One or both of them will be tasked with blasting Peter O’Mahony off the breakdown in what will be one of the more fascinating battles of the afternoon.  Can O’Mahony have another game where he comes up with three or four penalty turnovers to kill English momentum? If he does, Ireland should go on to win. Or is the least heralded of the Irish backrow, Chris Henry, the key man – he’s certainly started his belated international career well, and is the most natural in his position of the four flankers. The Awesome Power of Billy Vunipola is at No.8, and he’s been influential so far.  Like the best 8’s he barrows over the gainline, but crucially he can get his hands free and offload to those who can run lines off him.  He’ll need to be policed, but equally, his desire to offload can be a weakness – choke tackle anyone? Where is Stakhanov these days anyway?

Now, the scrum half.  Ah yes, our favourite Test Lion in Waiting.  We feel Danny Care owes us for making us look like eejits by playing his way out of the touring squad from the moment we declared him the starting test Lion.  Well, he’s repaying us and if there was a Lions match tomorrow, himself and Murray would be in the matchday squad.  He’s an instinctive player, something of an Eoin Reddan 2.0.  If he gets quick ball, he can supply the backline with a steady stream of super-fast passes all day long, as well as providing a lethal sniping threat.  There are few better at getting to the ruck at great speed and he has a penchant for quick taps.  Owen Farrell isn’t the most attacking fly-half but Care’s speed of distribution is dragging him kicking and screaming to the gainline.   But put him on the back-foot and and he’s not the best game-manager.  The Irish forwards know what they have to do – get Danny Care.  Ireland’s counter-ruck has been exceptional, and if they can muck up the service to Care that will be a huge battle won.

The backline is really inexperienced, but full of good players.  Consensus is that this is where Ireland can do some damage, but it won’t be as easy as it looks.  The midfield is a case of brains against brawn.  Ireland’s two 95-year old centres have seen everything (unless Bamm-Bamm plays, in which case he has hit everything), while Thirty-Six and The Awesome Power of Luther Burrell are big bruising athletes.  Twelvetrees is supposedly a classy footballer who can play 10 as well, but we haven’t seen too much of it this campaign, and against Munster he was the fulcrum for a lot of ordinary back play. Little known fact about the Awesome Power of Luther Burrell: he’s never been dropped by the Liiiiiiiiiiiiiions.

The back three we like.  Johnny May has gas and if he has his limitations, well, a winger with speed will always cause problems.  Jack Nowell looked like a nervous nelly on his debut in Paris and endured a bit of a nightmare, but he was more like his usual self against Scotland.  One try in the Boshiership this season is a pretty mediocre return, even for the Most Adventurous Team in England™, but he has a bit of football about him.  And the man at the back is the fantastic Mike Brown.  Looking at him in full flight and he never looks quite as classy as Ben Foden or Alex Goode, and yet he scores tries, counter-attacks, catches everything, beats defenders and breaks the line so at the end of the day you can’t argue with his selection.  He and Rob Kearney will have a right old ding-dong.

Ireland will line out more or less the same again.  We expect Donnacha Ryan to replace Tuohy on the bench and the rest to be as you were.  It appears that one of Bowe or Fitzgerald would have had a great chance of playing if they featured at the weekend, but they didn’t, so they won’t.  It’s a topic that’s being done to death, but we’d have made room for Simon Zebo, but it’s pretty clear by now that the Cork flyer is not in favour and will probably have to wait until the summer tour to press his case at test level.  Consensus is that Ireland will look to put it through the backline a bit more than they have done, as England will have a more potent maul defence than Wales or Scotland could muster.  It might prove to be wide of the mark, and with the options available out wide, Ireland may stick to the gameplan which has worked well so far. Plus we don’t think the English pack has anything like the granite heart that some of their predecessors had – the likes of Hartley, Lawes and Robshaw have been key forwards in teams humiliated by their Irish counterparts at HEC level in the recent past.  Dare we suggest for a third time that the weather might be dreadful??

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41 Comments

  1. Forecast is for a mixed day. At least we no longer fear the weather, last year the shitty weather in the lead-up to the England game was reason enough to suspect we’d be edged by Farrell kicking his goals and us fumbling the ball. And so it was.

    • Accuracy has improved beyond all recognition – I’m hopeful we can continue to restrict scoring opportunities for the Orcs

      • Yeah, given we’ve kept out Wales (Scotland would appear not to count as a source of credit) then you’d have to feel we can make it difficult for England, even if they will have better ball than Wales.

  2. Hughie

     /  February 18, 2014

    Best post in a long time lads, loved it.

  3. Bob

     /  February 18, 2014

    I always fancied an Irish win here if we could get parity up front. Rolling maul from the English is a worry so I’m hoping our lads are working on how to counter this. Should we give them non compete ball and just sack the jumper every time? If this results in the English going off the top and to the backs, then I would be happy. In relation to the scrum, the second I heard “The awesome” Dan Cole was out, I placed the house on Ireland -2 spread.

    Additionally, I think POM will have less competition on the ground as Dan Cole is a great jackal. Henderson for the bench for me as covers more positions but happy if Donnacha Ryan gets nod as he has a heart like granite.

    • They both cover two positions, no? Although I imagine they could play both sides of the second row, if pressed, so perhaps three. They’ve both played six. Has NWJMB played somewhere else I’m not aware of?

      • Bob

         /  February 18, 2014

        As a Munster fan, when Ryan has played backrow it has always worried me that he has no pace. The thoughts of Ryan v Billy Vunipola on a blind side break would scare me. Simple answer to your question is I do not think he is a viable option at backrow. I also agree that NWJMB has been working with Joe more now around what he expects etc so I think he would be a better fit for this game.

        • Yeah, I wouldn’t object to either really – I’d prefer Ryan at lock, I thought he was alright at six but I’m open to disagreement. I have a suspicion Joe will go with NWJMB because of familiarity, but I could be wrong.

        • Scrumdog

           /  February 18, 2014

          Vunipola will test O’Mahony’s tackling technique on the blindside and that must be a concern as POM is a player with a low tackling rate and not known for sending attackers backwards or stopping them cross the gain line. England will attempt to exploit this.

    • Barry

       /  February 18, 2014

      Agreed although I placed the house on Ireland +4 (PP)

      • Bob

         /  February 18, 2014

        Good man, there will be two more nervous then usual gentleman come kick off. Got -2 (PP) at 2/1

  4. I agree Zebo probably won’t make it into the squad til the summer now – really not clear to me what substantive issue Joe has with him, but I’d have no criticism of the current Irish wings either, they’re great players. Kearney and Trimble have been making ground in wholly unexpected ways. I’m not sure Ryan will get ahead of NWJMB – I think he’s the better player right now, but NWJMB has been around the squad for longer and Joe clearly has a lot of time for him.

  5. Pwhite

     /  February 18, 2014

    Expecting some typical ‘horses for courses’ game plan from Schmidt. O’mahony has been the Irish player of the series so far without doubt. Considering the media attention to his breakdown work, England might send the two 6.5s to try to smash him at the tackle area. Could be a chance to get other Irish jackals in – best, poc, heaslip and especially Henry – I’m expecting POM to be less visible but still very influential. Henry to be the obvious man at the ruck this time. They will try and wind POM up too. Great test of mentality for him.

    Cole is a huge loss. Irish bench in the front 5 has some bite in it these days. Moore, Ryan and McGrath (Healy to go berserk for 55-60) actually could add to us the in last 15. Presumably POC gets the whole 80 in with 2 weeks of rest.

    Surprised Zebo is not around the squad. Most unlikely ‘bad face’ in Irish rugby?

    Very confident anyway considering it is Twickers. I don’t see us mauling them off the park or spinning it wide that much but maybe a combo of both with a kicking game to move English forwards around. Powder was kept dry outside Sexton v Wales so Schmidt must have some aces to play. Leinster liked to score off very set plays against specific opposition in major games (see try v clermont in the epic away semi win) so expecting a set piece move or 2.

    • ‘Leinster liked to score off very set plays against specific opposition in major games (see try v clermont in the epic away semi win) so expecting a set piece move or 2’ Good point, another example of how Joe plays whats in front of him.

  6. I think the hooha concerning Zebo not being called up is totally overblown. There’s no denying, that he is an amazingly skilled player with more than a little of the je ne sais quoi. That said, two fairly simple tries against Zebre – not exactly top competition – is no reason to put him in in place of either Kearney or Trimble, who have done everything asked of them against Scotland & Wales. There’s maybe a case to make, that he might have brought more to the squad than Felix Jones, but for whatever reason the Milky Bar Kid, whose judgement I would trust, didn’t see it that way. Zebo’s chance to put on the green jersey again will inevitably come, he just has to knuckle down and put in solid performances with Munster until then.

    • Pwhite

       /  February 18, 2014

      I don’t see his omission as a particularly big deal in terms of selection for this game or this championship but we know Schmidt wants a proper squad for the World Cup. We also know how much potential is in Zebo so I would have thought getting time in camp to work with the coach would be good. In short – if Schmidt sees deficiencies, get Zebo working on them.

      In fairness, he could be in Munster with a checklist of things to focus on. Just generally, his complete absence seems strange. Penneys comments last week indicated some surprise. /frustration in Zebo.

      • I think there’s a nearly always a player or two who misses out due to competition for their spot, lack of game time etc. It just so happens this time round that player is Simon Zebo who, now that POM is playing like a champion, is the player that everyone has a lot of opinions on. So it’s all massively blown up out of proportion, gets undue focus in the media, which means people have even more opinions of it and on Zebo, and we have Irish rugby’s latest ouroboros

        • Very impressed with classical vocabulary there, Kate. I actually had to look up ouroboros. Grma for that. In modern parlance I think the equivalent term would be self-licking ice cream cone. I could go further on that little tangent, but I think I’ll quit now, while I’m still ahead, má dtuigeann tú mé….

      • rachel685

         /  February 18, 2014

        I agree that the Zebo thing is surely quite overblown. Schmidt and Kiss have both said repeatedly that he just hasn’t had the game time and I don’t think we’ve any reason to believe they’re lying or covering up some ulterior motive. He’d a very long absence with the kind of injury that prevents training; half an hour with the Wolfhounds and two home Rabo games against weak opposition are not really enough to get anyone up to speed to go to Twickenham. There are only a handful of players with the level of credit needed to come right back in after that (lack of) preparation – Bowe is probably the only wing who would be trusted to do that. Plus the existing wingers, while lacking Zebo’s natural spark, have done everything asked of them and more (see Trimble at the breakdown against Wales!) so there’s no really urgent case for bringing him back before he’s ready.

        I sort of see the point about getting him into the Ireland camp, but if the problem is lack of game time against tough opponents, it’s surely best for everyone if he gets another 80 minutes away against the Ospreys this weekend – a much tougher task than Zebre at home – rather than holding tackle bags for Ireland.

    • For me the Zebo thing is quite simple….

      He was injured so needed game time to get his fitness sorted. He’s done that now.

      However he has only been with this squad for the sum total of 1 week. A trip to Twickers is not the place to have someone find their feet in a new setup. He’ll have 2 weeks to show the coaches he can fit in prior to the Italian game. I’m sure he’ll be in the squad for those 2 weeks. If he can show he can do the job he’ll be in with a shout. If he doesn’t he won’t.

      All the talk of his attitude, his try celebrations or whatever are noise IMO. He’s not out of favour, he’s just unfamiliar with the current Irish setup. And Joe can’t risk putting someone like that into the squad ahead of someone who is familiar with the setup and performing to boot.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  February 18, 2014

        Nonsense, Schmidt hates his guts because he celebrates tries and is the best winger in Ireland, In NZ we call it tall poppy syndrome……

  7. Sound Steve

     /  February 18, 2014

    Last year they suffocated us up front, starved us of quick ball and played territory intelligently, helped by an outrageous amount of unforced errors on our part. It was a classic counter attacking away win. I’d like to see us do the same to them and test out their two wingers positionally, as I feel they may be lacking.

    On POM, what most people miss on POM is that his low tackle count is a corollary to his turnover count. In any contact situation there is a decision-making process, players nearby can contribute to the tackle (tackle count goes up, even if you’re not the first tackler), contribute to the defensive ruck or fan out. Contributing to the tackle can actually be a bad decision as your team have one less defender and one less well-positioned defensive rucker. On the flipside, a player nearby can leave the tackle and give themselves the opportunity to be the first man to the ruck, allowing themselves an opportunity at a turnover. While POM’s tackle count may be fairly low in comparison to his peers, his decision making at ruck time against Wales was absolutely excellent. Nearly every defensive ruck he entered he seemed to make a positive contribution.

    So it may be tougher for England to target POM as he doesn’t try to be first to every ruck, like a David Pocock, but rather uses intelligent ruck selection to create his turnovers.

    • Excellent point re tackle vs turnover rate. Especially when most of POM’s turnovers are from that “can opener” position (TM Trev Hogan). I get quite nervous watching him to do it cos his neck is so exposed and am worried there’s a serious injury in the making if someone smashes into him to clear him out. However if there was a 6 Nations of worrying I’d be in line for at least a Triple Crown so I’m trying to just enjoy the skill

      • toro toro

         /  February 18, 2014

        Isn’t the “can-opener” where a player jackalling in the position you describe gets bound onto from above by an opponent, and twisted (I want to say “corkscrewed”, but I don’t want to overcomplicate the metaphor) away to the side, judo-style?

        • Stevo

           /  February 18, 2014

          Yeah, the “can-opener” is a defensive turnover prevention move, rather than what O’Mahony has been praised for in the last couple of games.

    • Jojo

       /  February 18, 2014

      Except in all the other matches where he had low tackle counts he was not getting turnovers so I don’t accept that point.

    • Stevo

       /  February 18, 2014

      If O’Mahony had been putting in that eye-catching work at the breakdown in his previous appearances then the subject of his tackle-count probably never would have arisen. I think the corollary is to his positioning on the pitch. Whereas in recent times that kind of breakdown work was most notably done by O’Brien and Heaslip, Schmidt clearly wants O’Mahony playing closer to the breakdown where he can be on hand to do the things he’s been doing, in conjunction with Henry. Compare the praise that Jamie Heaslip has received for his eye-catching breaks against the Scots, a direct result of him being placed in a position to do so because of the re-allocation of duties with O’Mahony.

  8. Bueller

     /  February 18, 2014

    Joe’s first away trip with Ireland. I hear he has the lads on double hand shakes this week.

    • And texting every half an hour with nice little notes about other’s skillset.

    • Could explain BOD’s bug that’s just being reported!

    • curates_egg

       /  February 19, 2014

      LOL. The first away game point is interesting though. Schmidt always went with totally different squads and plans for his away games with Leinster. The former looks like being relatively unchanged, so it will be interesting to see what he does with the latter. He’s got to mix-up the squad at some point and the home game against Italy was always crying out for it. He can’t change everything but what he does change will be instructive.

  9. Paddy

     /  February 18, 2014

    Think you missed out Test Match Animal Owen Farrell.

  10. Cian

     /  February 18, 2014

    Exceptionally entertaining post, lads, and great to see so much rational discussion below the line. I’m really looking forward to this one, I had England as slight favourites till the Cole injury, now I’d say it’s neck and neck. As with the Wales game I’ll be fascinated to see Schmidt’s tactics. Pressure is on POM to prove he can produce repeatedly while being targetted, but arguably even more so on Schmidt and our other breakdown competitors to come up and implement a strategy allowing for his inevitable special treatment by the Orcs. I’d love to see TAPOs Hartley, Lawes and Wood waste the whole match keeping an eye on POM while Henry makes an absolute nuisance of himself, as well he knows how, POC turns every England ruck into an exercise in surgical ball extraction for Care, and Rory Best takes everyone’s favourite Kiwi to the school of top class hooker play (again).

    • Riocard Ó Tiarnaigh

       /  February 18, 2014

      Hear! Hear! It’s Hartly and Best going Mano-a-Mano, that I’m reeeeeaaally looking forward to. Only four sleeps to go now!

  11. hookerplayagain

     /  February 18, 2014

    An easy time wasn’t had of finding the analysis in between the jokes.

  12. Don

     /  February 18, 2014

    I really enjoyed the awesome power of this article. Great points and cracked me up to boot.
    The only thing I laughed at more than this is the demented moles naked man love of the news that Sam Burgess has signed with Bath.

  13. curates_egg

     /  February 19, 2014

    Agree with the consensus: a massive return to form from WOC.

    Am slightly worried about the overwhelming optimism coming from Ireland fans. Yes, we are coming up against an England side with few stand-out performers but they are well-drilled and clearly enjoying their thang. Yes, we have a good record over the past 15 years in Twickers but it is still a tough away game.

    It has always looked like a game that was possible to win but, if we don’t because England knuckle down and put in an extra-25%-performance (which is apparently the added boost Twickenham gives them, according to the PR BS), then all is still to play for.

  14. Buzz the England Fan

     /  February 21, 2014

    Great article – as ever.

    An observation about Zebo is that, as an opposition supporter, I’m very glad he’s NOT playing. However, he did look a little off the pace in the Wolfhounds/Saxons game but I’ve not seen him since then.

    Unfortunately, much as we like to debate things, these games are not won by wingers. It’ll be up front. Mind you, the English media are talking more about Sam Burgess than any of the current team.

    We have two teams who were both very disappointed not to have beaten the ABs in the autumn. It’s a bigger game for England because it’ll be a huge loss if your boys put one over on us at Twickenham. The Irish team have the edge on experience and nous that I don’t think we’ll cope with unless our pack really dominates – which, based on the Irish performance against Wales, I can’t really see happening.

    Looking forward to it – in the same way that I look forward to going to the dentist because it’ll be a painful process to endure but hopefully pain free by the end.

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