Minute details will decide England’s opening match against defending champions Ireland in this year’s Six Nations Championship, according to Harlequins back row Mat Luamanu.
Eddie Jones’ men finished fifth last year after defeats to Scotland, France and 2018 Grand Slam winners Ireland, and the two sides meet again on Saturday.
Both teams are in excellent form with three wins out of four in the Autumn internationals seeing confidence restored in the England camp, while Joe Schmidt’s side beat world champions New Zealand for just the second time ever.
“In these sort of high-pressure games, one of the key points is to do the basics right,” said Luamanu.
“Both of them are set-piece teams, but the one big thing is defence. Both teams are great at defending so I think it just depends who breaks first and who gives away the advantage or gives away penalties.
“I cannot call it.”
However, while the Samoa international finds it hard to pick a winner on Saturday, he is convinced both sides will be competing for the main prize come March 16.
“The Six Nations will tell us where everybody’s depth is,” Luamanu said.
“Everyone is looking at England and Ireland to see how they can do and how good their depth is.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing how Ireland go. They are the team in the past two years that have been really close.
“With their forward pack dominating over the past few years, it will be interesting to see what kind of level they can get to.
“We will see what Owen Farrell can do for England. They of course have got combinations they want to strengthen up, and this is their last dress rehearsal before the World Cup.”
Quins flanker Chris Robshaw will not be available for Saturday’s game in Ireland due to injury, but the New Zealand-born forward believes the former England captain’s absence will provide much-needed competition for places in Jones’ squad.
“When you get an injury to the calibre of player of Robshaw, it’s a blow because he is a player of such huge experience,” he said.
“He has done it countless times and he will be sorely missed but this is another opportunity to bring the depth through and give the younger guys more rugby at test level.
“A couple of guys have been nipping at Robshaw’s toes for a while now and if you throw these guys out there they’re not going to sit back, they’re going to take it with both hands and run with it.”
The 30-year-old Samoan also praised the endeavour of club teammate Mike Brown after he made the cut but considers scrum-half Danny Care unlucky to have missed out on the 35-man squad.
“Mike Brown is a great player, he always deserves the best,” he said.
“He’s England’s most capped full-back and has been working really hard to get his way back in and he has his foot in the door again, and that is a testament to the kind of a player he is.
“Danny Care is a top player and I thought he would have been in there but I guess Eddie must have a different vision.
“He is the most capped scrum-half for England and is one of the best in the world. I don’t think it will be too long before we see him in an England shirt again.”
While Jones has not come in for criticism for his squad selection, his training methods came under fresh scrutiny this month when an RFU report revealed a five-fold increase in injuries sustained in training sessions by players during his time as head coach.
However, Luamanu reckons England are in fact seeing the benefits of the added intensity implemented by the Australian in practice sessions.
“England have got a great coach in Eddie Jones,” he said.
“He has been there before and everyone knows he brings the best out of players and so you know his players will be ready to go for the Six Nations and they will have a point to prove.
“Eddie runs a tight ship and demands more from his players than anything else and I think that just brings the old-school style coaching into it.
“That’s how it was when he was coaching in his earlier years and he has just kept it the same way.
“It is all about respect, because if that’s how he coaches you have to react.
“Training is tough when it is at a different intensity and everyone is initially going to be like ‘oh wow’, but the 18 wins in a row show the boys respect Eddie so they’ve just got to keep working hard.”
Luamanu has also had to follow his own advice of hard work after a frustrating season. The 30-year-old has played just 196 minutes of competitive club action this season, but he believes his lack of playing time demonstrates Quins’ strength this season.
“It is about depth and these young guys coming through are playing well and they are keeping their places,” he said.
“I have been around long enough to know that you have just got to keep your head down and keep working hard and that it’s ultimately all about the team.
“We are sitting third in the Premiership which is obviously great for us and means we are doing quite well.
“We have shored up our defence and our offence has been amazing this year and now we are one of the most dangerous sides in the Premiership in attack.
“We have managed to regain a style going forward and we have executed that well. It is a compliment to what Paul Gustard has brought to this team.”
Luamanu was supporting Greene King IPA at The George in Twickenham by talking about the Last Drop competition, allowing fans the opportunity to win prizes such as a trip to the Rugby World Cup in Japan to watch England play.
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