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Tom May Column: England Changes Could Prove Crucial Against Ireland


The 6 Nations champions arrive in London making only one change. Ireland are in a good place and will go into the game as heavy favourites to hand England their third loss on the bounce, the hosts’ worst record since 2006.

England have lacked any quick ball during this tournament and their ability to break down opposition defences has been poor – aside from their game in Rome but then everyone has filled their boots against the poor Italians. It’s almost a ‘Catch 22’ situation though, if you don’t win the breakdown then you can’t get quick ball and if you don’t get quick ball the defence is going to have an easier time at the breakdown.

Dylan Hartley coming back into the side is no surprise to me. The team struggled in Paris, looked bereft of ideas about what to do and where to go. No one was walking round chest out, pumped up for the competition, it all looked a bit limp. Jamie George came in to start and made some uncharacteristic errors which won’t have helped his cause in knocking the captain of the top step.

The selection of George Kruis over Joe Launchbury must have been a tight call but this is one of those selections which I think Eddie Jones must have spent hours mulling over through the time he has been in charge. Both have valuable contributions to make and can have an impact on the game on Saturday.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 08: George Kruis of England wins the lineout ball from Kieran Read of New Zealand during the QBE International match between England and New Zealand at Twickenham Stadium on November 8, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

One change that had to be made was at prop. Kyle Sinckler was fantastic last week and picking him must have been the only option available to Jones. This change will bring valuable dynamism to England that we don’t see in the loose from Dan Cole. Mako Vunipola has a great footballing brain & Sinckler adds ferocity and aggression in the areas Jones needs it. As long as he can control that aggression England will benefit.

Discipline was an issue in France and Sinckler has the ability to contribute to this should his mind wander. England want to get over the gain line. There’s no doubt Sinckler will be the man to do so. If he gets through the other side look out, he has pace to embarrass backs, something every England fan will be willing to see on Saturday.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 23: Harlequins' Kyle Sinckler during the Aviva Premiership match between Harlequins and Leicester Tigers at Twickenham Stoop on September 23, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Craig Mercer - CameraSport via Getty Images)

When England lost Ben Youngs there was an argument for starting with Richard Wigglesworth’s ‘all-court’ game. He gets his chance to start this weekend with Jones opting to change his scrum-half. His skillset from the set piece is near perfect and even though he may not have the potent threat of pace that Danny Care possesses, he makes good decisions in and around the ruck which mean England can once again look to dominate tight collisions.

Unfortunately for Danny Care, he’s that sharp that he is almost suited to the ‘finisher’ role which will no doubt frustrate him, but I, as with the majority of England fans will relish his moment to make a difference in the latter stages.

Think back to the Australia game in November. England have two ‘go to’ men when it comes to getting quick ball. Sam Simmonds and James Haskell come into the back row are both built for purpose and Eddie Jones needs them on Saturday. Simmonds has more to his game and is more of an attacking threat but Haskell has shown time and again how he can slow ball down in defence, make dominant tackles and also get over the gain line consistently when carrying.

He had a massive impact in Paris and left several large dents in the French defence. If both he and Simmonds can beat the Irish defence around the corner of the ruck they can both get into the third or fourth Irish defender and shorten up their defence allowing Farrell to see the resulting space much more easily. Haskell will have to slow down Irish ball alongside Robshaw.

Last week England slowed nothing down apart from their own game and that from a side that wanted to attack from the off. Alarming. The biggest change sees George Ford dropped with Owen Farrell shifting to fly-half forming a midfield with Ben Te’o and Jonathan Joseph.

I’m hoping these three show the promise they did in the latter stages of the French game. Ford has found it tough behind a packing retreat. To be fair to him, most 10s do but the link between him and Farrell hasn’t functioned effectively during the 6 Nations, it’s shown signs of kick-starting itself but to no avail. He performed well in helping England win the kicking battle against Wales in those horrific conditions but aside from that, sadly little to write home about.

England’s midfield has a physical threat now alongside footwork and pace and this might be the combination it needs. Te’o can fix defences and square up a defender’s shoulders with his running lines which will give Joseph in the outside centre channel the chance to use the skills we haven’t seen enough of over the last six weeks. Elliot Daly can fill the second receiver role which has given England decision makers to balance their runners so the side won’t miss Ford’s key role here.

It’s a sharp looking back line but you could have said that last week so Jones will be hoping for a much improved week. 80,000 England fans will be…

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Author: Tom May

Tom May enjoyed a 19-year rugby career at the very top. He represented England, Newcastle Falcons, Toulon, Northampton Saints and London Welsh . Since retiring, Tom has worked for ESPN, BT Sport and Pundit Arena.