PREVIEW: Ireland v England

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 09:31

SIX NATIONS ROUND FIVE: England will leap across the Irish Sea on Saturday in search of golden glory. Paul Dobson reports.

They have the championship in the bag but they want more - the Grand Slam and still more than that - the world record of 19 consecutive victories, outdoing the mighty All Blacks.

The All Blacks got to 18 and then, in Chicago, the Irish stopped the triumphant march of their records.

It was a shock defeat, enjoyed by many.

Many will enjoy it, too, if the Irish do it again, this time to the triumphant English, who have equalled the All Blacks tally of 18 in just a year.

Such is the way Test matches tumble on till international teams seem more like clubs than the exciting occasional selections they used to be.

If you have been watching the two teams this Six Nations, you would think an English victory inevitable.

They have won all four of their matches, while Ireland have won two and lost two.

While Ireland can do sweeping, skilful rugby from time to time, England have a confident, invincible look about them. They are organised and strong. Unless Jack Murphy finds a strong enough axe, the giant will continue to sit sunning himself on top of the beanstalk.

Ireland will need the fearless energy and dedicated aggression of Michael Collins and the calm, smooth skill of Valera - Collins at the tackle and Valera when the backs are on the move. They have the ability to do both.

Possession for the Irish will be limited, not quite a potato famine, but close enough to cause serious problems of ball starvation.

They have dropped Devon Toner. Does that mean that they have surrendered the line-outs to Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes and Maro Itoje?

Ireland can scrum well and England possibly better.

That is where the Michael Collinses of loose forwards come in, the smash-and-grab men, and one would back Heaslip, O'Brien and Stander against Vunipola, Haskell and Itoje, except that loose forward ability so often depends on tight forward dominance.

One thing is certain - the Irish will not want for motivation. They have every reason, historical and modern, to want to win this match, and they will have the crowd to roar them on. After all Irishmen have poor memories - they don't forget.

In some ways rugby football has been Ireland's greatest achievement. It is a land with so many divisions - religious, political, economic, urban and rural.

Ireland is a small island and yet one sixth of it is a foreign country.

But rugby football has transcended the differences and got on with the game, the one activity in which all Irishmen are equally involved.

Players to watch

For Ireland: You would want to watch Jonathan Sexton. If he is over all his aches and pains, he is a player who can run again - skilled and brave, a player with vision to attack and a rugged heart to defend with. And he is an excellent goal-kicker. It is a serious pity that Conor Murray, the best scrumhalf in Europe, is not there. In the Irish pack, you will notice CJ Stander of the work rate, endlessly bashing forward, felling opponents in the tackle. He may just be in danger of being too predictable.

For England: Mike Brown is brave, almost recklessly so, as he leaps for the high ball and counterattacks directly at opponents. Then there are the English centres - clever Owen Farrell, who adds excellent goal-kicking to his value as a player, and free-running Jonathan Joseph. Of the English pack, you will see bustling Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje, surprisingly tough and skilful.

Head to Head: Jonathan Joseph against Garry Ringrose - fast against tough. Ringrose has made great progress this year. Dapper George Ford against free-spirited Jonathan Sexton at flyhalf. Front row against front row, Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best and Jack McGrath against Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley and Joe Marler. For England Cole's penchant for being penalised can be a problem. Loose trio against loose trio - Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien and CJ Stander against Billy Vunipola, James Haskell and Maro Itoje. The Irish three look a more balanced trio than the English trio, more likely to effect turnovers than the English.

Results against common opponents

Australia: England won 37-21; Ireland won 27-24
France: England won 19-16, Ireland won 19-9
Italy: England won 36-15; Ireland won 63-10
Scotland: England won 61-21; Ireland lost 27-22
Wales: England won 21-16; Ireland lost 22-9

Recent results:
2016: England won 21-10, London
2015: England won 21-13, London
2015: Ireland won 19-9, Dublin
2014: England won 13-10, London
2013: England won 12-6, Dublin
2012: England won 30-9, London
2011: England won 20-9, Dublin
2011: Ireland won 24-8, Dublin
2010: Ireland won 20-16, London
2009: Ireland won 14-13, Dublin

Over all the two countries have met 131 times, England have won 76 times, Ireland 47. In Dublin it's much closer. Out of 64 matches, England have won 31, Ireland 29.

Prediction: The rugby world will be expecting an English victory but then in Chicago the rugby world expected a New Zealand victory. If England will win, they will win by lots but something in the mad mind of me says that, provided they unIrishly sensible in St Patrick's Day, Ireland will win by two or three.


Ireland: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Cian Healy, 18 John Ryan, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Peter O'Mahony, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Andrew Conway.

England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 James Haskell, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Tom Wood, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Danny Care, 22 Ben Te'o, 23 Jack Nowell.

Date: Saturday, 18 March 2017
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 17.00 (17.00 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

By Paul Dobson

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Team P W D L Pts
Ireland 5 5 0 0 26
Wales 5 3 0 2 15
Scotland 5 3 0 2 13
France 5 2 0 3 11
England 5 2 0 3 10
Italy 5 0 0 5 1