- Moody next to share his thoughts on Veteran's View
- Former openside and skipper calls for sturdier defence and focus at the start
Lewis Moody takes the helm for the next instalment of Veteran's View, our series of columns with former England internationals that will run throughout the RBS 6 Nations.
Looking ahead to the clash with Ireland in Dublin on Sunday, he says Stuart Lancaster's men have a chance to take a significant step towards Grand Slam glory.
However, with all the experience of his 71 England Tests – including two defeats at the old Lansdowne Road – the ex-back-rower knows how tough that will be.
It’s funny, you are always quietly welcomed so warmly into Ireland but you never lose sight of how much they want to beat you.
They call upon the history between our nations in the same way Scotland bring up Bannockburn. You know you’ll be entering a hostile environment. It’s a proper challenge.
The new stadium is fantastic and it seems at the moment throughout the country there is a buzz around how they are playing and the manner in which they have performed over the past 12 months, certainly throughout the autumn.
Ireland may have had a slow start in the Six Nations but in that respect they’ve saved themselves to go all guns blazing on Sunday. They’ll have their own visions of a Grand Slam and they will have targeted this game as a must-win. It will be a special occasion.
For the last couple of games, Stuart Lancaster has mentioned how poorly England have started. That was magnified when they played Italy.
When you don’t have the level of emotional build-up as you do to a Wales away trip, it doesn’t matter what you are saying outwardly – in the back of your mind, you think you are going to win.
The mistakes they made against Italy will cost them in Ireland
That is probably why we saw the performance we did in the first 20 minutes against Italy. That’s happened over the past few games, but this weekend they’ll need to start strong and have real focus.
The other area England will need to work on – which surprised me, because normally it is such a strength – was the number of tackles they dropped off.
That was both down to people not being in the right place and individual tackle technique. Sergio Parisse seemed to skip through three men for his try. Players were standing back and second-guessing what he would do rather than stopping him at source.
I wouldn’t say that was a major concern, but they’ll want to address it before the next game. It’s hard – England have beaten a side 47-17, which is a considerable margin of victory, and we’re talking about where they could have been better.
But any side worth their salt will make the tough choices when they’re winning. You want to be improving as positive results come in. The other way round is 20 times harder. That way, it’s seen as negative criticism.
When you win, people take the feedback as a way to better themselves and are more likely to put their hand up and want to improve. When all is said and done, the mistakes they made against Italy will cost the match against a team like Ireland.
England will know how important this match is for them as a side. There is still a Grand Slam at stake, so they need to get things right from the word go.
We have to remember that this is still a young side. In difficult situations, sometimes that over-emotional state is more counter-productive than being under-hyped.
It’s important they find the level that suits them, so they can compete physically but also so they have enough clarity of thought to be able to deal with the heat of the battle.
There are still young combinations, so it will be interesting to see how they go under the pressure of Dublin – a very challenging place to go and win.
The last time Wales got a clean-sweep in 2012, they talked about how they wanted to win the Grand Slam from the beginning of the tournament.
Win this, and there is a great chance of a Grand Slam
If England beat Ireland, they’re in with a great chance of winning a Grand Slam. After this, they have two home games against Scotland and France.
I hope they express that outwardly. Stuart has always been very open and honest, so it would be nice to hear him say that he wants to win this Grand Slam and that this is a stepping-stone towards doing it.
Would that add fire to Ireland? Actually, part of me thinks that it doesn’t matter because there must be so much confidence in this side – and with a young side, that really helps. Whichever approach they take it will be interesting.
I have enjoyed watching the England back row so far. They haven’t had a huge amount of time on the pitch together, but huge credit to James Haskell – he’s taken his opportunity really well, carrying hard and tackling so well against Wales.
He’s getting through so much work off the ball and getting involved in so many facets of the game, more than he does even for Wasps.
Billy Vunipola is returning to the sort of form that brought him a call-up in the first place. The fact that both Chris Robshaw and Haskell are there – guys that are experienced – will help him as well.
I’ve been impressed, but the game against Ireland will be different, because they have players that have been on Lions tours, won this competition before and have played a lot of rugby together for the provinces and in the green shirt.
For whatever reason, they have produced some really talented back-rowers over the past few years. Stephen Ferris retires and now they lose Jamie Heaslip through injury and still they have Peter O’Mahony and Sean O’Brien.
There are some big, abrasive ball-carriers in the likes of Paul O’Connell and Cian Healy too. They are giant men who come hard and test your defensive qualities. It’ll be a serious battle of brawn up front.
Even so, there’s only one answer to what constitutes success for England from here. They have to come back with some sort of silverware having come second for the past three years.
Their two previous performances give us hope. Now they need to get it right.