Brian Smith: England are ruthlessly efficient, but Ireland and Brian O’Driscoll deserve to take Six Nations honours

If O’Driscoll ran for Irish president, he’d win the election by a landslide

I don’t suppose too many Englishmen see it this way, but when the final round of Six Nations matches unfolds today there will be a part of me hoping France don’t find a way to rain on Ireland’s parade.

This is not to question England’s contribution to this tournament – assuming they turn in a sound performance in Italy, they’ll emerge with a very good report card indeed – but for my money it’s the Irish who have played the slickest rugby and come closest to capturing the imagination.

Where England have been ruthlessly efficient – their defence is quite something at the moment – Ireland have been the class act in possession, bringing a wide repertoire of attacking threats to the party and outscoring their nearest rivals by almost two tries to one.

And it’s not simply down to Brian O’Driscoll either, although he’s a once-in-a-generation player who deserves to end his international career on the biggest possible high. He’s assumed god-like status in the game, a little like Martin Johnson and Jonny Wilkinson did in England around the time of the World Cup triumph.

Here at London Irish it seems as though half the supporter base will be at Stade de France to witness his farewell. If he ran for president (of his country, that is, not our club), he’d win the election by a landslide. There again, he’d have to take a pay-cut.

What Ireland have done over the last few weeks is find the critical mass essential to all successful teams. In other words, they’ve pulled together half a dozen key figures – O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell and Jonny Sexton among the players; Joe Schmidt, Les Kiss and John Plumtree among the coaches – and found a common language in which to express their common purpose.

Schmidt is a clever strategist, but he’s also an excellent communicator: that dressing room can’t be the easiest to manage. My old friend Les is a shrewd operator, while Plumtree has transformed the team’s work at the set-piece, which makes him the unsung hero of this excellent tournament.

Ireland’s record against France is pretty terrible everywhere, and especially bad over there: they haven’t won in Paris since 2000. But I’m struggling to understand where this particular French team is going, or what it’s trying to achieve.

Back in the days of Bernard Laporte, you could name the starting line-up in advance, almost season on season. Now it’s a fashion parade. I know some of the big names have been unavailable, either through injury or as a result of misbehaviour, but even so the lack of continuity has been astonishing.

Looking back at the opening round of matches, England should have won in Paris, and had they done so the tournament would be in a different place. As it is, they must turn in a professional, properly tuned-in  performance against the Azzurri and then hope things turn out their way a few hundred miles across the Franco-Italian border. What they absolutely cannot afford to do is put the cart before the horse.

Not so long ago, during my time in the England coaching set-up, we went to Rome for a Six Nations match and found some of the players – not many, but enough – were not in the right frame of mind. We stayed in a fine hotel overlooking the city and it may be that the luxurious nature of our surroundings backfired, because minutes before the warm-up I saw people wandering around the Stadio Flaminio with smiles on their faces. They might have been tourists! And I thought to myself: “Jeez, there’s no intensity about us. We could struggle here.” As it turned out, we won – but it was a squeeze, not a breeze.

If you’re five per cent off your game at Test level, it’s enough to condemn you to defeat. Happily, I don’t get the impression that these England players are prone to taking things for granted, one of the reasons – or rather, two of the reasons – being the Farrells, father and son.

Andy Farrell is clearly a big figure in the coaching team and an even bigger one in the dressing room when it comes to setting the right tone. He plays the “bad cop” role to perfection, a tough-minded sort who can sense even the slightest drop-off in attitude and address it in no uncertain terms.

Owen, a chip off the old block, brings the same ferocious commitment to his work at outside-half. His kicking against Wales last weekend was outstanding, but more than that his line-speed in defence made life horrendously difficult for the visitors in general and for Rhys Priestland, his opposite number, in particular. Priestland dropped deeper and deeper as the game went on, yet never found a way to shake off his rival. Most English 10s couldn’t tackle a ham sandwich; Farrell would tackle a truck.

All things considered, then, I expect England to end the tournament on a high note, especially if they follow the Irish model and force the Italians into making 200 tackles. No team, however enthusiastic, can hold themselves together under that kind of pressure.

As for O’Driscoll and his countrymen, they clearly have the quality to prevail in Paris and walk away with the title – which would be no more than the great centre deserves. But if the French actually turn up… who knows?

Brian Smith is the director of rugby at London Irish and a former England attack coach

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions