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Six Nations: Irish can expect aerial assault from English underdogs

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The Times newspaper crunched the numbers to find a weakness in the Irish game and discovered that in the four defeats they have suffered in their last 36 Tests, the teams that beat them kicked an average of 31 times for 965m.

England’s Rugby Union head coach Steve Borthwick. Picture: EPA, ANDY RAIN

England coach Steve Borthwick’s flirtation with a – relatively – more creative attacking game was horribly exposed in defeat by Scotland and he is likely to return to his tried and tested kicking approach in a bid to tame a rampant Ireland on Saturday.

Other than a well-crafted early first-phase try by Fraser Dingwall, England failed to deliver the new aspects of attack that Borthwick has been promising to “layer on” and they looked toothless and confused in a 30-21 defeat.

England find themselves in the unaccustomed position of being 4-1 outsiders on their own Twickenham patch, with Ireland a 6-1 shot to make it four championship wins in a row in the fixture.

A bonus-point win for Ireland, meanwhile, will secure the title with a week to spare.

Ireland would be the first country to manage that in the Six Nations era and only the third after France (1997/98) and England (1991/92) in the last 100 years.

An Irish win would also set a Six Nations record of 12 successive victories, dating back to their defeat by France in the second game of the 2022 campaign.

In the last three years in the Six Nations they average 35 points and almost five tries a game, while conceding 1.4 per match.

The Times newspaper crunched the numbers on Tuesday to try to find a weakness in their game and discovered that in the four defeats they have suffered in their last 36 Tests, the teams that beat them kicked an average of 31 times for 965m.

The successful teams also kept things narrow, playing wider than first receiver 17% of the time compared to 28% for losing teams.

Borthwick, a renowned stats geek, will be aware of these numbers, along with the comparable figures for England’s attack, and so it looks likely that he will revert to the kick-focused “keep-it-tight” approach that served him so well in the World Cup where England came desperately close to reaching the final.

That means he is likely to stick with kicker extraordinaire George Ford at flyhalf, despite Marcus Smith being available for the first time in the championship after recovering from injury.

Likewise, scrumhalf Danny Care will be crossing his fingers that he gets to lead the team out for his 100th cap, even with regular World Cup starter Alex Mitchell also back in the frame.

The experiment of bringing in Furbank at fullback could also prove a short-term one, with Freddie Steward set for a probable recall on the basis of his brilliance under the high ball.

Twickenham fans hoping for a start for fizzing winger Immanuel Feyi-Waboso are also likely to be disappointed as the coach holds the defensive capabilities of Elliot Daly and Tommy Freeman in high regard.

Reuters

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