Ollie Phillips: Brilliant England need to prove Ireland performance was not just a flash in the pan

Ollie Phillips
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Henry Slade (left) scored twice in England's 32-20 win over Ireland (Source: Getty)

What a difference one match makes.

England’s outstanding win over Ireland was a performance which saw them emphatically back to their best, displaying their true potential.

It was the perfect way to start the Six Nations and a World Cup year, with intensity, physicality, accuracy and pace which out-did one of the best teams in the world in every facet at their home ground.

Even in the 18-game unbeaten run at the start of Eddie Jones’s tenure there was nothing of such magnitude.

Every player in the match day squad was excellent. Manu Tuilagi’s return at centre had a huge impact, with Henry Slade liberated alongside him; the balance reminded me of the massively successful Jonny Wilkinson and Will Greenwood combination.

In possession the double carrying threat of Tuilagi and Billy Vunipola offers variety and is a real weapon for opponents to deal with.

Elliot Daly answered his critics at full-back by completely outplaying his opposite number Robbie Henshaw, while Jonny May just keeps getting better on the wing.

For two players making their Six Nations debuts, Tom Curry and Mark Wilson also deserve a mention. They’re a nightmare for the opposition at the breakdown. The fact England aren’t missing Sam Underhill or Chris Robshaw shows just how much the squad depth has developed.

Ireland looked shell-shocked by England’s game-plan and that’s where I think you could see defence coach John Mitchell’s influence. The New Zealander has provided a fresh voice and England’s relentless line speed and accuracy in the tackle were exactly what you need to beat the best.

Psychological burden

Next up it’s the potential banana skin of France at home on Sunday where the hosts need to maintain their momentum.

The French were so impressive for 40 minutes against Wales at the Parc des Princes, taking a 16-0 lead into half-time to give a glimpse of how good they can be. But the basic errors they made to gift an under-par Wales a win were woeful and they now have a psychological burden to overcome.

Playing a buoyant England at Twickenham is not where you want to be with those issues to overcome.

France fielded their heaviest ever pack last weekend, but I don’t think that will worry England, with the likes of Mako Vunipola on song. They will need to establish parity in the front row and the return of the old-school Dan Cole could help sure things up.

Heavy forwards can also be a downside and England will hope to benefit from fatigued French legs in the closing stages.

Three-horse race

After playing so well I think it will be tough to make changes. The injury to Maro Itoje will see Joe Launchbury or Courtney Lawes come in, but rotating someone out to accommodate fit-again Joe Cokanasiga is a hard call to make.

The fixture, known as Le Crunch, is a special occasion, but if England play anywhere near the level they found against Ireland it should be comfortable for the home team.

The Ireland win turned the Six Nations from a two-horse race into a three-horse one - with Wales - and it’s now very well poised, but it’s too early to get over-excited.

England were average in the autumn and exceptional last weekend. They now need to find consistency and prove Dublin was not just a flash in the pan.

Former England Sevens captain Ollie Phillips is a director within the real estate & construction team at PwC and founder of Optimist Performance. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn

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