"The Mood Will Turn" - Former Ireland Wing Luke Fitzgerald On Steve Borthwick's Future & Felix Jones' SAS Potential - Ruck

“The Mood Will Turn” – Former Ireland Wing Luke Fitzgerald On Steve Borthwick’s Future & Felix Jones’ SAS Potential

Former Ireland wing Luke Fitzgerald has expressed how despite he is weary of an England retaliation, despite Andy Farrell’s men being the favourites heading into this afternoon’s battle at Twickenham. England were defeated North of the border in the latest round of the Championship, and will be looking to return fire from the 30-21 loss to Scotland.

Speaking to BoyleSports, who offer the latest Six Nations odds, Fitzgerald :

“Twickenham will always have that trepidation factor for Ireland. Traditionally it has been a difficult place to go but of late that fear factor has diminished. Ireland will be nervous about how backed into a corner this English team is. They could face a backlash.

“There has been a lot of chat in Ireland this week about who if any of the England team would get into the Irish side. I have never heard that sort of rhetoric before an England-Ireland match. We are normally the underdog. Now we are the justifiable favourites.

“Ireland look far more comfortable in their game plan. They understand what they are trying to do in different parts of the pitch. In phase play, when it is unstructured, the Irish team has a way of playing; they know each other’s game very well.

“Their skillsets are further on from the English too.  If they see a gap and an area they want to target, the ball does get there with this Irish team. It’s not dissimilar to the great New Zealand and Australia sides of old.

“Everyone is comfortable with ball in hand and can make a pass, throw a dummy, and has good footwork. They know more about themselves than England who, especially in attack, look muddled. As a cohesive unit there is a big disparity in terms of where both teams are at.

“Ireland are clear favourites and would have to play poorly to lose. They will win by five at least. People are talking about double digits and point to Ireland’s amazing run. I don’t see it. A five point win at Twickenham is still a big win.”

England head coach Steve Borthwick is set to take the reins for his 20th match today, having had an undeniably mixed-bag so far at the helm. Borthwick’s tenure bagan with an underwhelming 2023 Six Nations campaign and subsequent Summer Nations Series.

The following Rugby World Cup then saw England finish at third overall, yet have taken a recent backwards step in the defeat to Gregor Townsend’s Scots. Fitzgerald believes that Borthwick’s future in the role could be in jeopardy, and that there is a disconnect between the England fans and their side.

“I think the England fans might be a bit discontented and disconnected with the team at the moment. Are they seeing enough progress? I don’t think so, especially from an attack perspective. My sense is that the country wants to see some progress in their game, and they don’t see it. I think England are in a tricky place in terms of their support and the atmosphere will be interesting. I am sure there will be fans who will wonder if Borthwick is the right guy to be in charge.

Steve Borthwick, Head Coach of England during the England Six Nations Squad Annoucement at Twickenham Stadium, London on 17 January 2024. Photo: George Beck/PPAUK

“If he loses the last two games against Ireland and France, then the mood will turn. Does he get to November?  A good performance on Saturday will enable him to see out the year.”

“I don’t know what is going on behind the scenes, but the RFU might not be in a position to let him go at the end of the year.  Will there be malcontent? I think there will be.

“You would just love to see a little more growth from England, a little more open on the attacking side of the ball from them. That is concerning.”

Steve Borthwick, Head Coach of England during the England Captains Run at Twickenham Stadium, London on 9 February 2024 (Photo: George Beck/PPAUK)

Contrastingly, Fitzgerald believes that his fellow countryman Felix Jones will go on to be a success in the England set-up. The former Leinster and Munster man has taken up the role as England’s defence coach, following a Rugby World Cup winning campaign with the Springboks. Fitzgerald knows Jones’ from their days back on the Emerald Isle, and is impressed by the man’s toughness both on and off the pitch.

“Felix and I played underage rugby against each other. We go back a long way. He was a great tackler himself and the only guy who could stop me in underage rugby.

“He is young and hungry and very single-minded. He will do well for England. I can’t see him getting it wrong. It just will take time. He is a disciple of Jacques Nienaber, the South Africa coach. 

Richard Wigglesworth, Attack Coach of England and Felix Jones, Defensive Coach of England during the England Captains Run at Twickenham Stadium, London on 9 February 2024 (Photo: George Beck/PPAUK)

“He says it takes 14 weeks to embed a new system. So, England need to be patient. But it is worth persisting with. It is a new style of defence which will suit England with their psyche and organisation and discipline.  When I think of England, I think of that ‘great army’ you have had over the years and are renowned for.         

“In another life Felix would have been in the SAS. He’s really determined. The great English teams always display that mentality. Hard as nails and make them believe in each other.

“I know there has been some discontent about the lack of focus on attack, but defence is vital and he will instil that belief and they will get better and better. It will be a very difficult day for the Irish who only know one way to play. They don’t know how to play negative rugby.”

Felix Jones, Defensive Coach of England during the England Captains Run at Twickenham Stadium, London on 8 March 2024 (Photo: George Beck/PPAUK)

Fitzgerald then turned his focus upon the current Ireland head coach, and expressed how Andy Farrell was the perfect choice to take over for Joe Schmidt after the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

“Andy is the perfect guy to take Joe Scmidt’s learnings and take Ireland to a different place. He has a mixture of intensity and laid back persona and is a guy who you would follow into battle. He is also very technical and he has the buy-in from the players. They just love him and love being in camp. Cian Healey says it is the best environment he has ever been involved with.

“He has done something special. The Irish love the tough humble northern English hard-nosed individual with an appropriate mindset, but also a man of the people. Stuart Lancaster is the same. They are guys built to lead Irish teams.  

Ireland team to play New Zealand

“We love Andy Farrell. He has made a tweak to the Irish mindset. Rugby Australia have made the best decision ever in picking Joe Schmidt as their head coach. He is one of the best capable of building from the ground up. Farrell has tackled a couple of things. One thing I love about him is that he has embraced chaos.

“Schmidt is unbelievably organised but if something did not go according to plan, it would cause consternation. Farrell is brilliant at seeing the best in any situation. He has changed the mindset. A setback is also an opportunity. The players really believe in him, they love wearing the jersey, they love fighting for each other. Levels continue to go up.”