England still the team to beat

Fri, 16 Mar 2012 00:00
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Ireland captain Rory Best has said England remain the team to beat in the Six Nations as he looks to finish the tournament with a St Patrick's Day win over the old rivals at Twickenham on Saturday.

Ireland captain Rory Best has said England remain the team to beat in the Six Nations as he looks to finish the tournament with a St Patrick's Day win over the old rivals at Twickenham on Saturday.

England-Ireland is the second oldest rugby fixture in the international calendar and summoning up non-rugby historical grievances against the English is rarely an issue for any of their opponents, especially the Irish.

But Best, deputising as captain in place of the injured Paul O'Connell, said it was England's rugby record that provided a useful source of additional motivation.

"Historically, England have always been there or thereabouts as Grand Slam champions," said Ulster hooker Best.

"You want to beat the best and for many years they have been the team to beat.

"When I was growing up, England dominated this tournament. Once you're lucky enough to play for Ireland you want to beat the best and that's what England have been."

England may have gone into this Six Nations as the defending champions but they entered the tournament with a new acting coach in Stuart Lancaster following Martin Johnson's post World Cup resignation and the former boss of the national reserve team has since given nine players in all a Test debut.

Ireland have won seven of their last eight Championship matches against England but Best said: "We know that in past we've had some very tough games against England and we expect nothing different tomorrow.

"At this level nobody particularly likes losing because we're very competitive players. You only get to the top of sport by being competitive.

"I've always found that if it's been a tough, hard game, you have that respect for each other.

"Unfortunately our record won't have any impact - those games are in the past. It's all about what happens at 5pm [17.00 GMT] tomorrow [Saturday] evening.

"As far as we're concerned we're playing the reigning Six Nations champions in their own back yard."

England's only defeat this tournament was a 19-12 home loss to Grand Slam contenders Wales and Best said of Lancaster's side: "They've won three of their four outings so we know they're a very tough team.

"We're looking forward to it but we're under no illusions over the size of the challenge. The past is the past.

"England have been very efficient so far. They negotiated two banana skins against Scotland and Italy well.

"They upped the level of performance against Wales and then upped it again last weekend (in a 24-22 win away to World Cup finalists France in Paris).

"They look like a team that's hungry to win for each other and that rings alarm bells for any team playing them. When you have that hunger to succeed, it goes a long way."

This has been a frustrating tournament for Ireland, who might have been on for a Grand Slam of their own but for squandering leads in an opening defeat by Wales and a draw away to France.

The Paris match was doubly annoying, given that its postponement because of a frozen pitch left Ireland having to play their final four Six Nations games this edition on successive weekends.

"We're playing on St Patrick's Day and you always want to finish the championship on a high," said Ireland coach Declan Kidney.

"They (England) are hungry and are playing for one another, but our fellahs have been the same.

"Our lads have had one or two things thrown at them during the Championship and I can't speak highly enough of how they've responded to that."


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Italy 5 0 0 5 1