Jonathan Davies: England expects – and this time they must deliver

Click to follow
The Independent Online

To predict how England are going to play at Lansdowne Road this afternoon you must appreciate how desperately they need to win. Obviously, both teams will be flat out for it, and we can be sure that all Ireland will be gutted if they lose. But the Irish can fall back on the comfort of a very good season and a terrific rate of progress over the last couple of years. They could still go to the World Cup with a spring in their step.

To predict how England are going to play at Lansdowne Road this afternoon you must appreciate how desperately they need to win. Obviously, both teams will be flat out for it, and we can be sure that all Ireland will be gutted if they lose. But the Irish can fall back on the comfort of a very good season and a terrific rate of progress over the last couple of years. They could still go to the World Cup with a spring in their step.

What could England fall back on? Five consecutive flops in their Grand Slam quest – plus the fact that many of them were in a losing Lions series in 2001 – would be liable to put them in grave doubts about their ability to win a big one.

That would be a huge burden to take to the World Cup. The No 1 team who can't win a No 1 prize.

In many ways, England are chasing a bigger quest than a Grand Slam. They are chasing self-belief – and if you can't prove yourself the best team in Europe, how can you believe you can be the best team in the world? The pressure they take into today is not something applied by the media or their millions of supporters; it comes from within.

The expectations they have created in others are less demanding than the expectations they have created in themselves, because they did so well in the autumn and because they are genuinely an excellent team. They deserve all the credit they get, but being a great team requires that they do great things – and winning the Grand Slam is the least of it.

You can tell that they recognise this by the clinical way they've played in the Six Nations. It has been about winning and nothing else. This will apply more than ever today; in fact, no other consideration will apply.

They will take the Irish on up front. They will go head-down for field position and will curb all their attacking instincts until they get to the right place at the right time. It might not be pretty, but beauty will be in the eye of the beholder and England will not worry about the manner of their victory as long as they get it.

I can't disregard the Irish chances of winning because I know they have it in them, but if the English apply themselves then they will win. There will be nothing in it. I believe that no more than seven points will divide them at the end of what I expect to be a fascinating, if not spectacular, match.

The crucial men for England will be their decision-makers; Martin Johnson, Jonny Wilkinson, Matt Dawson and Will Greenwood. They will have the aim of keeping their team on the straight and narrow.

They won't play laterally, as they have mistakenly done in previous encounters with Ireland. Mike Tindall will hit holes across the advantage line to give his forwards a target. They will be careful not to relinquish any loose ball for the Irish forwards to scavenge, because if they do they'll be lost.

The Irish approach will be as strong and as simple as ever. Kevin Maggs will try to run over Wilkinson, and what a hell of a collision that is going to be. The holes made by Maggs will be the target that the others will attempt to exploit. And when you think of Brian O'Driscoll, Geordan Murphy and Denis Hickie hitting those holes you will have some idea of the English task.

The only doubt concerns the Irish pack, who got pushed about by Wales last week and will really need a better performance. But such is the Six Nations that one mistake can turn a game, and you can depend on the Irish crowd to deafen the heavens if England make it.

But I am sure England will run out today with no more complicated instructions in their minds than "make no mistakes, be patient and grind it out".

Meanwhile, the French applied a liberal coat of whitewash to the Welsh, who have had a poor Six Nations. They have showedoccasional flashes and didn't do badly against England and Ireland, but you can't collect the wooden spoon with anything but a heavy heart.

They began so well yesterday, and if Craig Morgan had made better contact with his opportunity early on they could have been 12-0 up, but gradually the French applied a stranglehold on the game.

Playing against France in Paris with the spring sun on their backs is a prospect no side relishes, and Wales just faded away. They made bad mistakes in possession, lost two line-outs at a crucial stage and were scrambling thereafter.

Both sides kicked away so much good possession. Wales especially couldn't afford that, and seemed to have no confidence to run the ball back.

Iestyn Harris looked promising at No 12 at the start but then suffered like the rest. He did enough, however, to be persevered with in the run-up to the World Cup, which is going to require a lot of hard work.

Comments