By Craig Kemp
1st February 2019
Having finished fifth in the final Six Nations standings last year (their worst ever outcome), England couldn’t have asked for a tougher 2019 starter as they attempt to bounce back from that farce.
First up for Eddie Jones’ men is a trip to Ireland – not only the 2018 Six Nations winners, but a team that achieved this feat by completing the Grand Slam.
Ireland are also on a six-match winning streak, which includes Sydney and Melbourne successes over Australia, alongside a home victory over top-Test-ranked New Zealand.
We’ve enhanced the odds on Ireland repeating their Grand Slam achievements to 5/2, while England winning the Six Nations have been given similar treatment, boosted to 9/2 from 10/3.
In terms of the match betting in Dublin, Ireland are understandable favourites at 3/10, with England an enticing 11/4.
The big team news for England is the return of Manu Tuilagi to start his first international since June 2014, while brothers Mako and Billy Vunipola both feature in the starting XI.
If England are to avoid a repeat of last season’s 24-15 Twickenham reverse, there’s three obvious areas of improvement.
Taking points when they are on offer
Despite the usually deadly kicking prowess of Owen Farrell, England often rejected the chance to take three points via a relatively easy penalty in last year’s clash with the Irish. The five instances that they kicked for goal from outside Ireland’s 22, the chance was converted.
Yet, at both 7-0 and 14-0 down, they took the more aggressive play of kicking for the corner and chasing a try. On both occasions, they left without any points in return.
At the Aviva Stadium, England should be sure to kick for goal whenever the opportunity arises.
Avoid giving away silly penalties
It wasn’t so much that England conceded 11 penalties at Twickenham, it was the circumstances in which they were conceded that would have frustrated Jones the most.
England made a habit, especially in the first half, of having all of the momentum and having the Irish pegged back on their own 22, only to concede a needless penalty.
This happened inside the opening five minutes and after kicking for touch, within three phases they had scored a try. Something similar happened virtually on the half-time whistle, with an Irish try meaning they headed into the break with a commanding 21-5 advantage.
England can’t let Ireland off so lightly again when the hosts are defending deep in their own territory.
Making the most of being in the Irish 22
This was a regular thorn in England’s side throughout the entirety of the last Six Nations.
They were the most prolific of all of the six competing nations for gaining entry into the 22 of the opposition, yet their reward for these 43 admissions, was a mere 87 points. What’s more 46 of these points were registered against regular Wooden Spoon winners Italy.
To put this into context, Ireland waltzed into opponents’ 22s on 38 occasions, yet left with 145 points.