England believes they are ready to reach the same performance heights against Ireland on Sunday as in Yokohama last November when they dismantled the All Blacks.
England has a turbulent start to these Six Nations, with a defeat in Paris and an ugly, wet-and-wild victory over Scotland against a background of off-field turmoil. Head coach Eddie Jones finds himself in the eyes of various storms, but he is convinced that England will not be blown off course.
There was an inevitable comedown after their near-miss World Cup campaign in Japan, which resulted in a severe defeat by South Africa in the final. But what they achieved in the semi-final a week earlier offers a benchmark for future ambitions.
England must encounter Ireland in the same way as they have participated in New Zealand in the World Cup
England’s intensity was unparalleled compared to the All Blacks, and they have to find it again
It was a seismic result: England 19 New Zealand 7. But what caused the most joy to the people involved was how they got it done. The buzzword was “intensity.” The English attack was relentless and the powerful All Blacks had no answer.
The same buzzword went around on Friday after Jones named his side after Twickenham on Sunday.
Set aside the discussions about the line-up and there was a feeling of strong confidence.
Jones admitted that his players had been ‘edgy’ earlier in the week, but on Thursday they showed encouraging signs of rediscovering the collective attitude, purpose and clarity that characterized their best screenings in Japan.
Asked what he had seen in training to generate such optimism, Jones said: “Only the intensity. It was by far the most intense session we had done. We are going back to our World Cup level, or even above the World Cup level, while we were 20 percent lower at the start of the Six Nations. We feel that we are approaching our best now. “
Elliot Daly echoed that feeling. “Clearly it’s hard to come back from a World Cup, but how you perform in the Six Nations remains a legacy for the year,” he said.
“We are disappointed with the French game, but the preparations for the past two weeks were really good, until where we were during the World Cup. Hopefully we can bring that into play. ”
Asked if he believes that England can match the quality of their epic heroic deeds against New Zealand, Daly said, “Yes, sure – 100 percent. I think we can certainly reach those places. It’s about knowing how to get to those places.
“We knew to New Zealand that we had that game, that physicality and the way we tried to control it. But that is what you want to do in every test competition. If we can get to the point again, it would be great. “
George Ford also talked about intensity and the fly-half claimed it returned to the heights last seen on the “back of the World Cup.” He argued that after a spell in their clubs after the tournament in Japan, it was inevitable that England would need time to move the top gear.
“We need to be somewhere near us this weekend,” said Ford. Correct.
One of Ireland’s priorities will be to stop the recalled Leicester center Manu Tuilagi
Under Andy Farrell, Ireland have won their first two games in this tournament, at home against Scotland and Wales. They will be driven to face a terrible World Cup campaign and to face heavy defeats in their last two encounters with the English.
A priority for Ireland will try to stop the recalled Manu Tuilagi before he can seriously damage their title prospects.
Last year in Dublin, after a long line-out throw, the early attack of the Leicester center set the tone for his team’s dominance in all facets, in what became their most complete championship display of the Jones era.
Ford spoke to the entire team of England in welcoming the return of an injury from Tuilagi: “It’s great to have Manu back. He looks fit, he looks fresh and he has a smile on his face, which means we know he’s ready.
Ellis Genge will be ready to explode off the couch, just like he did in the win over Murrayfield
“He is a great weapon for us and we must ensure that we use it properly. He has a unique point of difference that can get us on the front foot more often. Our job is to get the platform to make sure we get the best out of it. “
In reality, England might find that they are quite dependent on Tuilagi for ‘passing on’, due to the absence of the Vunipola brothers – Mako and Billy – although Kyle Sinckler and Maro Itoje, among others, can also offer the host ballistic clout.
Then there is Ellis Genge, the furious Leicester prop who is ready to explode from the couch, just like he did to win the Murrayfield game.
As usual, Ireland will pose a threat to their aerial arts, both when pedaling and during the line-out. Visitors have an extensive pedigree and experience in key positions, from props Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong to the half-back alliance of Conor Murray and captain Johnny Sexton. They are an Andy Farrell team, so they will be persistent and combative.
England’s campaign will be brought to a sharp point on Sunday. Defeat is far from unthinkable. But they don’t see it that way. They see another peak and are adamant that they can reach it.