Deep Blue vs The Hipster’s Choice

Even though rugby is on the verge of dying on its feet, with Tony Ward decreeing that the only solution is to cut each team by four players, make them wear armour and helmets, allow forward passes and pause for ads between phases, there is one gleaming white light on its horizon. A light that isn’t just white and gleaming, but well-mannered, good-looking and creative. That’s right – it’s the team formerly known as England (actually foemerly known aas St. Boshingtons), but now rebranded as the Harrow Globetrotters.

The gloriously-monikered chaps talk all proper, are upstanding gents, and, best of all, have this weird idea that scoring tries might, y’know, help win the game. England, who recently arrived at the Aviva bearing a centre partnership of Shontayne Hapless and Matt Banahan, are now the great entertainers of the Northern Hemisphere – they have become the hipster’s choice. On their way to Fallon & Byrne, the skinny jeans-wearing, moustachioed, pipe-smoking ironic glasses-donning denizens of hipsterdom proclaim their ironic love for England.  Truly, it was never meant to bwe this way.

“The Premiership is excellent to watch – I’m thinking of streaming BT Sport on my ThinkPad” they remark while their Jamaica Blue Mountain brews on the counter. “I love the way James Haskell quit his job and went to find himself abroad .. then came back a better person” they crow, as their independently-brewed Slovenian pilsner cools to 5.8 degrees in its specially shaped glass. “I’ve always expected that the England coaching staff would recognise that Danny Cipriani has more to offer than Stephen Myler” they opine while flicking through a dog-eared copy of Bernard Jackman’s ‘Blue Blood’.

Every year, we tell ourselves “this has not been a vintage Six Nations” although what we really mean is “it’s as un-watchable as ever” – it didn’t take the advent of modern defences for Northern Hemisphere rugby to be a forward-dominated bosh-fest on rubbish pitches. The difference is that, while in recent years we have tended to rely on the roller-coaster fortunes of Ireland  and of course the French, with their madcap coaching appointments and smouldering good looks, to provide some entertainment, this year the English are bringing the party.  Daft Punk are playing at their house.  You’ve got to set [their dashing midfield] up, set them up!

So England are the hipster’s choice, but how good are they really? They might score a bucket load of tries, but they also conceded three tries against Italy – three too many against a team piloted by Kelly Haimona – perhaps the worst yet in along series of terrible Italian imported outhalves. Even Craig Gower would have fancied himself against Haimona, and not just in an offal jim-jam contest. Or to put it another way – which coach would have slept sounder after England’s win over Italy – Joe Schmidt or Stuart Lancaster?

We’ll wager the way the rosy-cheeked bright-eyed youthfully vigourous English backs went out to bump up their points difference didn’t fill Lancaster with glee. Plenty of England teams have fed forty- and fifty-burgers to the Italians in Twickers, but none them did it while looking so pourous. Sure, it’s great fun, but we expect the recipe to beat the boring Irish in the Palindrome will fall less on the shoulders of George Ford, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson than on the beef of Dan Cole, George Kruis and James Haskell. Can they organise themselves well enough to defend the super-cohesive Irish rolling maul?  The impeccable manners of Chris Robshaw and the way he selflessly tackles his heart out forever, and the ability of Billy Vunipola to keep getting over the gainline and recycle quickly will just as important – this is going to be a tightly fought contest where each metre is fought out in the trenches.  The party stops here, it’s time to get down to seriously putrid rugby.

If England come out and throw the ball around, one could expect the ironclad Ireland defence to keep them out with ease and induce some lateral and directionless shuffling – or an intercept when the first forward is skipped for the centre behind him on static ball. England might have saved the northern hemisphere from eternal damnation in recent times, but they’ll probably need to be playing some decidedly non-vintage (or, if we are true to reality, “vintage Northern Hemipshere”) bosh-it-up-the-middle rugby to leave Deep Blue Schmidt’s hard drive with a win.

They have the capability to do it.  Don’t forget that for all the frothiness, it was their forward power more than anything else that dominated Wales in the opening match.  They suffocated the life out of the Valleysmen.  That is the template they’ll hope to bring to Dublin.  If Ireland’s maul is a weapon, the scrum is a concern, where Dan Cole and Joe Marler are black-belt scrummagers, and nobody needs reminding ofthe manner in which Marler milked penalties from Mike Ross in the Leinster v Harlequins double-header this season.

The backline will be busy, but perhaps not in the same way as against Italy.  Chances are the back three will have to catch a lot of kicks and Mike Brown’s absence will be felt.  Ben Foden is also injured and it leaves them playing Alex Goode at full-back.  Goode is a classy runner in open field (such that that ever occurs these days) but how will he, and the two inexperienced wings (with Jack ‘Tryless Wonder’ Nowell expected to replace Johnny May) go under aerial bombardment from Ireland’s halves?  Note to Jared Payne: don’t do anything silly now.

One thing is certain – it won’t be pretty. A second thing is certain – it will be a chess match. The maul, the kicking game, the scrum; these will be the decisive factors.  It could well come down to whoever best holds their nerve.  We’d back Johny Sexton over George Ford if it comes down to a shootout.

Our money is on the computer. Ireland to win.

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  1. Yossarian

     /  February 26, 2015

    Launchbury and Lawes are massive losses for them. Think Launchbury tap tackle last year or Lawes ability to dominate collisions. in a game of fine margins i don’t see Kruis or Attwood pulling out the big plays.England could physically dominate us up front still even without those two.
    Would Ross be pulled after 30mins if it is all going wrong ala Healy vs Toulouse years ago under Cheika? Not sure but might need those calls with the French man in the middle.
    Last year i thought we needed Sexton to be unreal for us to win in Twickenham. Unfortunately he had his worst game of the championship(either the ball he got or English defence caused it) Same applies this week. If he plays well i think we can sneak it.

    • Yep, they’re down two fine second rows. They are also missing a number of other players who might have been selected had they been fit and have soret of stumbled on their new super-duper backline.

      Against that, we’re missing Heaslip, who’s a huge loss. It’s a fairly big step down to Jordi Murphy, who is good, but Heaslip is excellent in almost every facet of backrow play, a remarkably complete player.

    • Billy

       /  February 26, 2015

      I find people get Courtney Lawes so wrong. His famous “big hits” are nearly exclusively late tackles on 10s post-pass/kick, not very impressive IMO. However, he is a fantastically agile, mobile lock with some footballing ability. He is also developing into a great lineout man. Kruis is a great prospect but not there yet.

      I really rate Attwood, brilliant athlete for his size and a great carrier. A great replacement for Launchbury.

  2. curates_egg

     /  February 26, 2015

    I think your piece might be stronger without the initial 4 paras! I’ll summarise it for you: England play more entertaining rugby than us and you don’t have to be a hipster to admit that. It is totally reasonable for people interested in rugby (who aren’t Ireland fans) to express a preference for the way they have been playing. Fair balls to them.

    I think you slightly misjudge them though. They have a strong forward platform and have been very strong and physical. That is what their game is based around. Once they get dominance, they have an exciting backline that can do something with good possession. That is not the same as mere throwing the ball around.

    To beat them, we will need to stop them getting over the gainline and match their setpiece. Without getting all Franno on you, I think Heaslip is a huge, huge loss to the former end.
    Nowell is a fullback/wing and is a decent player too, so he should strengthen their back three’s ability to counter the only discernible tactic Ireland have used so far.

    Hopefully, we are going to finally reveal some of the other dimensions to our play we keep getting told are being worked on in training. You allude to it but there are definite questions about their backline’s defensive cohesiveness and these questions might be better asked by some creative running than by an up-and-under. I’d like to see us try this a little. Wingers cutting in to take pops or – god forbid – offloads. If it doesn’t work, we can always revert to the tried and tested kicking the leather off the thing.

    • toro toro

       /  February 26, 2015

      Nowell hasn’t really played a lot at 15 for the Chiefs to be honest -but he’s been doing a fair old bit at 13 this season, so I guess the point stands.

  3. I think Schmidt sticking with Mike Ross after he’d effectively been dropped by Matt O’Connor in the wake of less than satisfactory outings v Quins was a brave call. It paid off against Italy and France. As we all know, Ross is a big-time scrum nerd. I reckon, come Sunday, he will have a plan ready for getting the better or at least holding his own against Marler. I would imagine, that having the backing of JS will enable him to put this plan into action. Similarly Jordi Murphy – should he, as we suspect, be selected to stand in for Wolverine aka head-phones man – is going to have to play the game of his life, if Ireland are to win. Since coming back from injury his performances in Blue and Green have been on an upward curve. I would hope this to continue against England. COYBIG!!!!

  4. they_are_laws_not_rules

     /  February 26, 2015

    hopefully the ref did not watch either of the Leinster/Quins matches. From my very foggy memory Ross was destroyed and between himself & the rest of the front row brotherhood they gave away 8+ penalties v Marler.

    in saying that
    Come on Ireland!!!!

  5. I read a scrum analysis earlier claiming that Marler only got the upper hand against Ross because he was pulling the wool over the ref’s eyes and driving across and up illegally. I am not qualified to comment on whether that analysis is accurate but is it possible Irish Camp will raise this as a potential issue with Mr. Garces ahead of time? Marler still seems to be very good though.

    I think we’ll struggle to physically dominate that English pack regardless of their absentees. I’d be happier with Henderson starting, expected backrow is slightly undersized.

    • Yes, but as per last week’s scrum woes piece, who can rely on the referee to have any idea who is doing what and how legal they are in the dreaded scrum?! No doubt Marler will try the same thing again. Hopefully we’ll be ready for it, and while Ross has gone well-ish in the first two rounds, it’s still a pick that makes us nervous.

  6. Vexxed_and_Perplexed

     /  February 26, 2015

    Jack Nowell is no longer the tryless wonder that he was too. 5 tries in 12 appearances this season.

  7. Buzz

     /  February 26, 2015

    No-one seems to know what’s really going on in the scrum except the front rowers themselves – and they’re not telling.

    What we do know is that England use the scrum to exert influence and extract penalties. They’re not interested in using it as an attcking platform. Lawes and Launchbury are great players but there seem to be enough able deputies to step up so their loss isn’t a big issue.

    England have stumbled upon their brave new world of running rugby by accident. If Stuart Lancaster’s hand hadn’t been forced by injury we’d still have Owen Farrell kicking the ball up in the air or shovelling the ball slowly on to the poor unfortunates outside him. (Except for Brad Barritt who must be considered fortunate to have got anywhere near international rugby.)

    Anyway, if Ireland avoid the scrums, boss the breakdown and use the best pair of halfbacks in the NH to run the game – they’ll win.

  8. Paddy o

     /  February 26, 2015

    England definitely on a bit of a charm offensive and they are sucking me in a bit I must admit. George ford talking about supporting ireland, graham don’t get me started on that Paul O’Connell man rowntree, Chris Robshaw being just about the most decent fella ever to play for England, am I missing anything?

    I’m expecting a higher scoring game than the past few encounters. England’s recent success over ireland has been predicated on that they have managed to stop ireland playing any rugby rather than anything exciting they’ve done themselves. A few things might change there. First Ireland have gotta get their signature quick ball and surely have went bananas on that this week in camp. If they get it – I think could be a happy day in attack. Second, England’s improved attacking game I’d argue has been based on quite superb fitness levels and has improved massively from twickenham last year. This game is a big step up in lung work from Italy/France for Ireland and I’d reckon they too will find a few holes.

    Despite the recent clashes this has the makings of an absolute belter of a game, could go either way, which will then be hyped as a potential World Cup semi re-run. Even if it is an arm wrestle, I’m not particularly with this putrid (love that word) rugby stuff. The beauty is in the contest, no?

  9. UnmixedMaster

     /  February 27, 2015

    LCD Soundsystem dropped in there nice.

  10. andrew097

     /  February 28, 2015

    The first thing you do against England is to scrum as eight, no back rowers with heads up looking for the next play. If they sniff a weakness there they will knock on just to have another go.
    Second thing you do is to chop their big runners down behind the gain line. Don’t bother trying to hold them up because you might get one or two but they will get one or two busts as well. Put them on the ground and attack the off load. Big forwards get a pain back peddling to protect their ball and eventually stop doing it.
    Easy the hard part is doing it for eighty mins.

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