RICHIE McCAW WAS planning a six-month rugby sabbatical of piloting bi-planes and reflecting on a winning year until England ‘mussed’ it all up.
Manu Tuilagi made the devastating line breaks, the English pack won the penalties and Owen Farrell slotted them over. 38-21 – enjoy your break Richie.
“It was incredible,” Donncha O’Callaghan told TheScore.ie. ”I think that they are the standard setters for Northern Hemisphere rugby.”
The Irish lock has noticed what he calls ‘a culture change’ within the England squad and he puts it down to head coach Stuart Lancaster and his management team.
O’Callaghan recalled, “They look really tight and like a collective group whereas sometimes, before, you got into them and you could target individuals. Last year, we tried it but they seemed like a tight bunch. He added:
[Beating New Zealand] is a big trophy for any Northern Hemisphere team. When you take a scalp like that, you put yourself right up there. To be fair, it was the conviction with which they won.
“They’re playing incredible rugby… they can play the forward dominance game but they’ve also got gamebreakers throughout. You have to be at the level from minute one.”
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw on his knees against England last November. (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)
Ireland centre Gordon D’Arcy usually takes time out of a hectic training and playing schedule, in November [and early December], to watch the annual North v South rugby encounters.
He said, “It’s about the only time I get to watch the rugby because, if you’re lucky enough to be selected, you look at how you would play and defend against the teams.
“It’s boring. My mates wouldn’t watch it with me because I’m looking at it half analytically and they’re saying ‘Great, he’s sucked the fun out of a good rugby weekend’.”
The Wexford native will have noted the impact Tuilagi and Brad Barritt had on the usually solid Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu.
“They were very impressive,” said D’Arcy. “You could see they were up for it.
“The breaking balls, the 50/50s. The stuff that New Zealand normally dominate, England took control of. They took the life away from New Zealand.
“A team that does that, when they have a stranglehold on the game, the only way to beat them is to do it back to them.”
‘Not rocket science’
D’Arcy looks set to be partnered with Brian O’Driscoll in the Irish midfield for the 49th time on Sunday and knows what to expect from the visitors.
“It’s not rocket science, the gameplan,” he told TheScore.ie.
“They like to use their runners, who are pretty good on the ball. Hard runners in the midfield, like Twelvetrees and Barritt, who get them over the gainline and Ben Morgan gives them that advantage too.
“You can see it, they just want to get the ball out wide and into the hands of Ashton, Goode and Brown.”
Ireland showed plenty of attacking nous in the 30-22 win over Wales at the weekend but D’Arcy predicts a tough afternoon’s slog.
He said, “We’re not going to get that space again. That’s the problem with the Six Nations, the minute you’ve played one game people say ‘That’s what they did. Right, we’ll stop that’.” He added:
We’ve got to bring it up another level so out attack will have to improve this week. England are going to present another massive challenge and a step up, physicality wise, but we’ve shown that it’s a hell of a lot easier to attack than defend.”
The centre explains that the individuality of players like Craig Gilroy and Simon Zebo has not been corralled into an Irish game-plan and the team have been given the freedom to play to their strengths.
“There’s not a lot known about them at international level except that they’re bloody quick,” he added.
*TheScore.ie will be live for Ireland v England from the Aviva Stadium from 2pm this Sunday.