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England v Ireland - Teams and Prediction

ROUND FOUR PREVIEW: Andy Farrell has insisted his native England remain capable of scuppering Ireland’s bid for successive Grand Slams even though the visitors will be overwhelming favourites to win Saturday’s Six Nations clash at Twickenham.

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Ireland head coach Farrell’s men have been the outstanding team of the tournament, with bonus-point wins over France, Italy and Wales suggesting their failure to get beyond the quarterfinals of last year’s World Cup in France and England’s third-place finish was as much to do with an absurdly lopsided draw as anything else.

Another bonus point success at Twickenham would mean reigning Six Nations champions Ireland had retained their title with a game to spare by winning their fifth successive match against England.

And with fit-again fullback Hugo Keenan restored to the side, Ireland are arguably an even stronger outfit than the team that defeated Wales 31-7 in Dublin last time out.

England, by contrast, go into the game on the back of a 21-30 Calcutta Cup defeat in Edinburgh that was more emphatic than indicated by Scotland’s nine-point margin of victory.

But with Ireland bidding to become the first team in the Six Nations era to win back-to-back Grand Slams, a cautious Farrell said of England: “We just prepare for them to be at their best and if that’s the case it’s going to be one hell of a battle.”

Farrell won eight England caps as a player before becoming a member of Stuart Lancaster’s coaching staff only to be let go by incoming boss Eddie Jones following the team’s woeful first-round exit on home soil at the 2015 World Cup.

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But Farrell, the father of England record points-scorer Owen Farrell, insisted Saturday’s match was “no different to any other game”.

‘Right decisions’

Many coaches say they want their team to ‘play what is in front of them’ but few mean it or have sufficiently skilled players available.

And when it was suggested to Farrell that Ireland needed to be more “direct” in attack than against Wales, his reply was telling.

“When people say you’ve got to be more direct, let’s do that for the first 20 minutes and let’s see if we can win collisions that way, well then you’re taking away everyone’s decision making within that type of game,” said Farrell, who will be in charge of the 2025 British and Irish Lions in Australia.

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“It’s just making the right decisions at the right time and being able to be calm enough to see that and feel that and do that. Directness isn’t just about punching holes because if we do that into a white wall, we’ll be going backwards.”

England, by contrast, still look uncertain in their game management for all their side features experienced campaigners in captain Jamie George, as well as flyhalf George Ford.

Red Rose boss Steve Borthwick has given a first Test start to Immanuel Feyi-Waboso but doubts remain over whether the rest of a side featuring fit-again scrumhalf Alex Mitchell and a reshuffled pack, with Ollie Chessum moving from lock to blindside flank, can get the ball to the 21-year-old wing in an attacking position.

“This is a team that is growing fast,” said England coach Borthwick, who insisted they had learned from their Murrayfield mistakes as he lauded Ireland.

“We know we’re going against the world’s best team right now but I also think that’s a challenge the players are relishing.

“I’ve seen the England team in recent times going into situations where the opposition were fancied ahead of us and I’ve seen them jump at the challenge and I sense that from them now.”

Players to watch

For England: Wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso will make his first Test start. It’s a meteoric rise for the 21-year-old at Twickenham less than a year after playing in the third tier of English rugby for Taunton Titans. Alex Mitchell is back in the No.9 jersey and he will add some speed on attack. George Ford’s experience will be crucial in the match and he will be called on to keep that scoreboard ticking over with his boot. In the pack, England’s back-row contingent of Ben Earl, Sam Underhill and Ollie Chessum will have their work cut out against Ireland’s superstars in those same positions. England fans will also be hoping for some more aggression from their locks, especially from Maro Itoje.

For Ireland: Fullback Hugo Keenan returns and he will just add another few dimensions to an already impressive attacking machine. Flyhalf Jack Crowley continues his journey after Johnny Sexton’s retirement and he will surely be put under a bit more pressure from George Ford. In the No.8 jersey, Caelan Doris is an impressive ball carrier and a monster on defence. His back-row partner Josh van der Flier is one of the best in the world and his workrate is often unmatched around the park. Ireland will also have a livewire hooker on the field in the form of Dan Sheehan, who tends to make metres with every carry.

Head to head

Prediction

@rugby365com: Ireland by 12 points.

Teams:

England: 15 George Furbank, 14 Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Lawrence, 11 Tommy Freeman, 10 George Ford, 9 Alex Mitchell, 8 Ben Earl, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Ollie Chessum, 5 George Martin, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Jamie George (captain), 1 Ellis Genge.
Replacements: 16 Theo Dan, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Chandler Cunningham-South, 20 Alex Dombrandt, 21 Danny Care, 22 Marcus Smith, 23 Elliot Daly.

Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Jack Crowley, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Joe McCarthy, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter.
Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Ryan Baird, 21 Jack Conan, 22 Conor Murray, 23 Ciaran Frawley.

Date: Saturday, March 9
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Expected weather: Cloudy with showers in spots in the afternoon. A high of 13°C and a low of 7°C is expected.
Kick-off: 16.45 (16.45 GMT)
Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)
Assistant referees: Andrea Piardi (Italy), Craig Evans (Wales)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

AFP & @rugby365com

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