Mallett backs Ireland in must-win game

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One of European rugby’s top coaching brains has sat and assessed. Now, he has decided.

Italy’s South African coach Nick Mallett has joined those insisting Ireland has what it takes to subdue England in the 6 Nations crunch clash in Dublin.

Mallett, whose Italian team has been defeated by both England and Ireland already this season, is uniquely placed to analyse both sides. He acknowledges England’s improved performance against Wales but insists “Ireland’s quality should prevail. It’s theirs to lose.”

Mallett insists Ireland are the better equipped side.

“Ireland will really climb into England, I’m sure of that” he said from Rome. “And they have to, because Ireland must win this one. If they are even going to consider themselves as challengers to Wales they can’t afford to lose to England at home.

“My view is, Ireland are on a roll at the moment. Their discipline was outstanding against France and in quite a hard, physical and fractious match against us in Rome, they showed their ability. They did give away 12 penalties but they were more disciplined than us. We conceded 18.”

Mallett gave four clear reasons why he expects Ireland’s quality to prevail tomorrow.

1) “They are playing with great patience and that is a good sign for them. One of the tries they scored against us in Rome came after 17 phases.

2) "With Ronan O’Gara kicking well, they are a pragmatic team. I think O’Gara is playing really good, controlled rugby. He kicked really well against us and some of his kicks into our corners really put us on the back foot. He is what I would call an aware fly half

3) "Ireland have good pace on the wings and an inventive back line. Rob Kearney looks an outstanding player and Brian O’Driscoll can make something out of nothing.

4) "Paul O’Connell is Ireland’s key man. For me, he’s very very important. He’s a great ball carrier, controls the line-outs really well and defends so well around the fringes. I thought he had a huge game against us.”

Mallett is bewildered why England seem to have targeted the rucks as so crucial an area of the game. If such a policy does exist, it has clearly brought them into direct conflict with referees, most notably South African Jonathan Kaplan at Cardiff in the match against Wales.

It’s Mallett’s view that making the rucks so critical is a dangerous, high risk policy. “England have gone willy-nilly to the rucks but that’s something I don’t understand because it’s so dangerous.

“They have also given away a lot of yellow cards for stupid things, like tripping players and not getting hands off the ball at the breakdown when the referee has already warned them. Then there was a high tackle. These are really stupid things, the type of offences that even at club level you would get angry with your players for committing.

“They are trying as hard as they can but sometimes you must just keep a cool head.

“They certainly seem to be on the wrong side of referees at the moment. But maybe that’s because they seem to have targeted the rucks as an area they want to contest. It’s all very well contesting them but it’s an area where referees are incredibly strict. There are so many reasons you can be penalised at that contact point.

“Players have to be really aware and technically astute as to what the referee will allow them to get away with.”

Yet the coach of Italy, who meet Scotland in Edinburgh on Saturday, does have a word of warning for Ireland. “If the England pack starts dominating up front, especially in the front row, then it won’t be so easy for the Ireland half backs and their threequarter line. The Irish pack has to get parity at least for them to get on top overall.”