How to compete with England

Though a win for Ireland this weekend is highly unlikely, the data from the opening games suggests that there are ways at very least, to frustrate England and prevent them from running away with a game. We take a look at how to approach it thanks to insights from Opta.

April 16th, 2024

4 minute read

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How to compete with England

Punish ill-discipline

Much has been made of the fact that England have already had two red cards in this Championship, but England have also conceded the most penalties overall in the competition (34).

Some of this is explainable, as attack coach Lou Meadows attempted after the game at the weekend.

In pursuing a high-octane style, where they want to win the ball back and want to play intricate attacking patterns, penalties are simply more likely, and no team has yet managed to punish this on the scoreboard.

This weekend Ireland have an excellent kicker in Dannah O’Brien, who has slotted nine out of her ten attempts at goal so far and a well-functioning lineout. If teams like Ireland are presented with opportunities, they simply have to take them.

Be on red alert after half time

England are absolutely lethal when they come out after the break, scoring 53 points so far in the 20 minutes after half time across the Championship.

To put that into context, no other side has more than 20 in this quarter of the game, so this is in effect when England close games out and when the opposition is under most threat.

An extremely well-conditioned side, England will always present an even more potent threat as games go on, as teams in front of them tire from what is usually a massive defensive effort;  but be on red alert to the danger that they pose after the turnaround, and teams might just find they are looking at the tail end of the game with hope rather than dread.


Slow them down

The speed of the ruck is a vital tool to success in rugby, and the teams who enjoy net positive possession alongside a rapid recycle rate on the ground tend to win matches.

Ireland’s success against Wales was in very large part thanks to this – they simply blew Wales away with the pace at which they were getting on the front foot, and though unsurprisingly England have the fastest ruckspeed in the competition (2.82 seconds), Ireland’s success in this area last weekend means they now sit second in this table (2.84).

When England played Italy in the opening game, this was an area the Italians targeted well in the opening half hour, forcing England to reload in front of a more organised defence which invited lots of mistakes. They couldn’t keep it up because England are just too good, but there was an element of a blueprint there.

Attacking the breakdown as a defensive team of course is a risk – if you get nowhere and overcommit against England, suddenly there is space for lethal finishers out wide - but if you don’t even attempt it, England will come so hard at you in waves, you’ll be continuously meeting your teammates under the sticks.