While all the talk in England this week has been of an injury crisis in the red-rose pack, none of it has fooled today’s opponents, Ireland.
As a former rugby league kicker who once had a spell in charge of London Broncos, Les Kiss could have been forgiven for thinking the absence of Dan Cole as the England tight-head might make for an easier afternoon at Twickenham. Yet having served as defensive coach under Declan Kidney before his dismissal last year, Kiss is well versed in the kind of challenge that awaits Joe Schmidt’s men this afternoon.
Forwards coach John Plumtree has whipped Ireland’s maul into devastating shape, while England’s driving play has blossomed under Graham Rowntree, with Kiss expecting the power games to collide in spectacular fashion.
“There is a chance both teams might think ‘let’s attack it a bit differently’, then fake to the maul and go elsewhere,” Ireland’s assistant coach said. “Both teams are probably thinking about that as a strategy, but I think there is a part of this game, particularly at Twickenham, where I know England would like to draw a line in the sand in that area.”
Elements of the beefed-up English and Irish mauls are noticeably similar, with the common denominator likely to be Paul O’Connell. The Ireland captain proved a vital pivot in the British & Irish Lions’ maul in Australia last summer, where Rowntree was forwards coach.
Former Leicester Tigers prop Rowntree has no doubt helped England benefit from that exchange of information. Kiss knows just how tough a challenge it will be for Ireland to exert any kind of dominance.
“We have a lot more improvement in the maul, but we have worked hard to make it a real strength,” he said. “If there’s a game where we’ll find out if it is a strength it’s this one. So there may be some variation from it from both teams, but they are going to lock horns at some stage.”
Kiss added: “It’s going to be a true forward battle that possibly determines what else happens around the field. We’re set for that, and I’m pretty sure by the way that they’re set for it as well.”
With David Wilson replacing Cole at tight-head, England’s coaching staff have freely admitted he will not last the course, with Sale’s international rookie Henry Thomas primed for action from the bench. However, Kiss warned Ireland not to expect to benefit from England’s injury issues purely as a matter of course.
“Without a doubt losing Dan Cole is a blow but Wilson has a lot of international experience, and he scrummed well last week for Bath against Exeter,” he said. “The danger for us is to take our eye off the ball there, and think that it will come easy to us – it won’t. I don’t think any part of the game will come easy to us.
“We expect the typical ferocious onslaught from an English forward pack, and the fact that they have had some changes there is something we’re not taking our eye off.It’s not just about the scrum, their maul’s become so powerful a weapon that if it’s structured well early it’s a hard thing to stop.”