A touch-and-go win over Wales and unconvincing victory in Italy have left England in second place in the Six Nations' Championship but besieged by unhappy critics and calls in some quarters for fly-half Jonny Wilkinson to be dropped. The England wing Ugo Monye and former captain Martin Corry answer 10 questions hanging over Martin Johnson's team as they prepare to meet Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday.
Should Wilkinson go, Jonny go?
"A settled side is the number one factor in England becoming successful," said Corry. "I'd go further than saying Jonny and Riki Flutey are the 10 and 12 for this year. Martin Johnson should say they and the bulk of the current side are going to be the core of the 2011 World Cup team. Chopping and changing is not going to work." Monye attended the same school as Wilkinson and stuck up for his boyhood hero. "His composure in vital moments is crucial and he kicked a drop goal against Italy at a perfect time. His intensity, his professionalism, his cool head on the pitch are exceptional. This England team really needs Jonny Wilkinson."
Where are the strike moves and interpassing we see from backs in New Zealand, France and Wales?
"You look at the backline we have," said Monye. "We all like to express ourselves, we are all good footballers and we love having open space. We are given licence to express ourselves and play whatever we see on the pitch." How about the former head coach Brian Ashton taking a training session? A few egos would have to be massaged to make it happen.
Will England ever generate quick ball at the breakdown?
"If England struggled at the breakdown against Italy it will be twice as hard against Ireland," said Corry. "The changed interpretation, allowing the tackled player to present the ball, will build confidence that England can keep the ball, and develop the Wilkinson-Flutey combination."
England have the size so it must be about technique?
"The breakdown is 30 per cent technique and 70 per cent attitude," said Corry. "You can coach it, to an extent, but getting low over the ball is mostly about attitude. Johnno when he was playing was one of the biggest nuisances – not at getting hands on the ball but at being impossible to shift over it. And for developing a pig-headed attitude [forwards coach] John Wells is your man."
Why is there so much aimless kicking to the opposition?
"When we look to run we are very dangerous," insisted Monye. "We did kick the ball away too much against Italy." Since Jason Robinson retired England have been a good team to kick to. Receiving the ball in front of a strung-out defensive line, the back three of Monye, Delon Armitage and Mark Cueto should combine in twos and threes, interpassing, to draw in and beat the first-up tackles and then link with the back row. Instead they tend to kick the ball back again. If that is the tactic, the chase needs to be good. Armitage in particular needs to rediscover his bullish counterattack.
Do England suffer from having players dotted at clubs all over the country and in France?
"Ireland only have four provinces to choose from and that is probably an advantage for them," said Monye. "They have been together a long time and know how to grind out results. But I think this England squad is maturing very well."
Is a new captain needed?
"I think Steve Borthwick's the right man," said Corry. "Players have a way of letting you know if something isn't right but I heard Nick Easter talking about Steve and there was no sign of weakness. He's not the most charismatic but he's the best of what there is and he provides stability."
Can England get on top of Ireland?
"The Ireland scrum is waiting to be attacked," said Corry. "England have to go in with the mindset that it isn't enough just to work hard for parity. [Tighthead prop] Dan Cole has got a great opportunity here. He's the oldest 23-year-old I've ever met – it comes from hanging around the likes of Julian White and Martin Castrogiovanni at Leicester – and he must go in knowing what he's got to do against Ireland's loosehead Cian Healy." The modern push-pull shambles over the mark, plus loosehead Andrew Sheridan's injury, have hurt England's traditional scrum strength. The pack must dominate Ireland and the referee.
Where else are Ireland vulnerable?
"Both teams are under pressure, but for Ireland it's for the first time in a couple of years," said Corry. "Look out for who they pick at full-back now Rob Kearney is injured. If they don't go for Keith Earls, they will be taking the conservative route. The Irish know how to be cagey when they are under the kosh." There's a thought: England being less conservative than the opposition.
Are England ambitious enough?
"There has been no talk of the Grand Slam, let alone banning talking about it," said Monye. "You might as well be talking about winning the World Cup in 18 months." Talk is cheap but behind closed doors England should be seriously discussing how to conquer the world. To win the Six Nations they will need to beat two teams who have overtaken them in the world rankings on Johnson's watch: Ireland and France.
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