Ireland owes themselves against England

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 20:07
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SIX NATIONS SPOTLIGHT: Ireland captain Rory Best said his side "owe ourselves a better performance" when they try to stop England completing a Grand Slam in Dublin on Saturday.

England, who've already retained their Six Nations title, are bidding for a win that would see them set a new record of 19 consecutive Test victories by a leading rugby union nation. It would also mean they had become the first side in the Six Nations era to complete back-to-back Grand Slams.

An extra dimension comes from the battle for places in the British and Irish Lions squad for their tour of New Zealand in June and July. Both Best and England captain Dylan Hartley are vying to be the Lions' starting hooker.

But with Ireland having seen their title hopes end with last week's 9-22 defeat by Wales in Cardiff, team success on Saturday is the overwhelming priority for Best.

"I wouldn't say it feels personal, it feels like we owe ourselves a better performance than we delivered.

"For me it's just another game. He's the captain of England, I'm the captain of Ireland and if we go into this game looking at personal battles then we can't perform as a collective," Best told reporters at Dublin's Lansdowne Road on Friday.

An Ireland win on Saturday could see them finish second in the Championship and would preserve their place in the top four of the world rankings ahead of the May pool draw for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

But Ireland will likely have to play as well as they did in ending world champions New Zealand's 18-match unbeaten run in Chicago in November if they are to derail an England side who ran in seven tries during a 61-21 thrashing of Scotland at Twickenham last weekend.

"They were very ruthless, it's hard to see too many other opportunities they got that they didn't score from and we know they're capable of that. The lesson is that you have to try and lessen the amount of opportunities they get and you have to be very, very good defensively," Best said of England.

Ireland couldn't manage one try against Wales, let alone seven.

"We'll have to be more accurate than we were last week, we know that. That's the challenge for us," he added.

Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell is the father of England goal-kicking centre Owen Farrell. Andy Farrell was also a member of England's backroom staff for four years before being swept away as part of the revamp that saw Australian coach Eddie Jones take charge following the tournament hosts' first-round exit at the 2015 World Cup.

"He can offer some insight with his familiarity with a lot of individual players, but he understands their group has moved on from when he was there," said Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby.

"Andy's very professional in his approach. He's given us the same delivery that he always gives us defensively, he shows us where they are going to try to attack us, how we are going to be better, and how we're going to stop them."

As for suggestions that Ireland would gain extra motivation from 'spoiling England's party', the 34-year-old Best, a veteran of 103 Tests, said: "I think we take too much pride in our performance to worry [about that].

"We're well aware of what England are going for tomorrow, but for us I suppose it's St Paddy's [Patrick's] weekend, we're at home and we have a very proud record at home as well, and we take huge confidence from that."

Agence France-Presse

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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