April 22, 2024

England’s trip to Ireland on Saturday has the potential to be record-breaking for all the wrong reasons.

After last weekend’s 53-10 pummelling by France, former England captain Matt Dawson says staying in the game for an hour as Ireland seek a Grand Slam in Dublin would be “really good progress”.

Ireland’s biggest win against England is a 43-13 victory in the 2007 Six Nations. The defeat by France was England’s heaviest ever loss in the tournament.

That was against the side ranked second in the world at home. Now, they are going away to face the world number ones.

England have already failed to secure a home win for the first time in the Six Nations and head coach Steve Borthwick needs his players to rally and avoid further negative marks in the history books.

Get it to Arundell

A graphic with a picture of Henry Arundell and the words: In Henry Arundell's six caps, he has touched the ball six times in 77 minutes and scored two tries

Despite the defeat by France, Borthwick has only made minor tweaks.

Henry Arundell will make a first Test start on the wing, while centre Manu Tuilagi returns following a suspension and David Ribbans comes into the second row for the injured Ollie Chessum.

Captain Owen Farrell is back at fly-half after Marcus Smith struggled last weekend and is full of praise for Arundell, saying: “It seems like every time he touches the ball people expect him to do something good and he doesn’t normally disappoint.

“We’re looking forward to trying to get him into the game.”

Halting a Grand Slam charge in Dublin is a big ask for 20-year-old Arundell, but there are high hopes for the London Irish back whose selection suggests underdogs England will go down swinging.

Dawson told the Rugby Union Daily podcast: “If you’re going to play Arundell you’ve got to give him the ball. It shows intent to keep the ball in play.”

Time will tell whether England’s attacking structure can bring Arundell into the game and even Borthwick himself has acknowledged that the wing will have to be delivered the ball in space for his selection to make sense.

England will also need a lot more parity up front than they achieved against France if Arundell is going to have any chance of producing the fireworks he has offered at club level.

“If England win quick ball then all of a sudden Tuilagi makes sense and Arundell makes sense,” Dawson says.

“If they are not winning the breakdown, it does not count for anything.”

Get physical

Up front, Borthwick’s forwards have a chance to redeem themselves.

The stats offer some hope: England have the highest line-out and scrum success rates in the 2023 Six Nations with 95%.

The reality against France was not quite so bright and in Ireland they face a side that has won 23% of its opponents’ line-outs this tournament.

England’s defence missed 27 tackles against France and has already conceded 14 tries in this year’s tournament. Only winless Italy have conceded more with 18.

Last week’s captain Ellis Genge has promised a “reaction” from his forward pack and Dawson says that will have to be balanced with increasingly strict laws around dangerous tackles.

“Where are England’s ball carriers going to be?” Dawson asks.

“Kyle Sinckler, Ellis Genge, Maro Itoje, Lewis Ludlam – the responsibility is now on those individuals in the forward pack to step up.

“You have to be super clever when you are being physical. England’s forwards are going to have to be smashing into rucks but clearing people out in the right way.

“That is how they have to dominate the game, but it is not easy to do.”

‘Hang on in the last 20 minutes’

A graphic with a picture of Johnny Sexton and the words: Ireland have been beaten four times in their last 51 Tests at home since the end of 2013. England claimed one of these victories in 2019.

Now is not much fun for England players and fans, but they can look to the future.

A third-place finish in last year’s Six Nations spelled the beginning of the end for former head coach Eddie Jones. Fourth place looks likely this year.

Borthwick says his side have “got to catch up really fast” with the World Cup starting in September. Another poor performance in an England shirt could cost some a trip to France this autumn.

Dawson says: “It might sound overdramatic but there are a lot of players in that team that have to put a marker in the ground that in all the adversity, you’re part of an England team that your coach thinks, ‘I don’t care where we’re playing in the world, I want him in my team’.

“I am struggling to see England winning but not struggling to see them challenging Ireland so that they have to overperform to win it.

“The question is, will England hang on in the last 20 minutes to stop a 15, 20, 25-point win? That’s the battle.

“Given where England were last week and what response you would expect from an England side, they should be competing. I don’t see that they are going to last the distance but they should be competing.”

As a player, Borthwick won once in seven attempts against Ireland. Ireland’s head coach Andy Farrell was part of the England side that suffered the record defeat in 2007.

While Borthwick is unlikely to turn his statistic around at this stage of his head coach reign, Farrell may well make amends for his loss with a record-breaking win on Saturday.

His son and opposition captain Owen is intent on stopping that, saying: “Everyone, especially from the outside, is down about where we’re at at the minute.

“We’ve no doubt we’re better than that and we’re looking forward to the game tomorrow.”

Credit: By Becky GreyBBC Sport

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