Thu 7 Feb 2013 | 06:26

Preview: Ireland v England

Preview: Ireland v England
Thu 7 Feb 2013 | 06:26
Preview: Ireland v England

Ireland great Brian O'Driscoll will be aiming for his eighth successive win over England when the Six Nations Championship title rivals clash at Dublin's Lansdowne Road on Sunday.

The veteran centre, who missed the November programme through injury, returned to action with a superb display in Ireland's opening 30-22 win over defending Grand Slam champions Wales last weekend, creating one try, scoring another and producing several crunching tackles in defence.

Now he is relishing another crack at England.

"They're great occasions, largely because invariably England are one of the best sides in the world," said O'Driscoll, who hinted before the Wales match this could be his last Six Nations.

"You have to bring your 'A' game. It's England in Dublin and that's an exciting prospect no matter how many times you've had it."

O'Driscoll, 34, does not expect to play at the 2015 World Cup in England and has said he understands why Ireland coach Declan Kidney has entrusted the captaincy to back row forward Jamie Heaslip.

But he remains a leader all the same and Sunday will see O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy extend their world record centre partnership to 49 Tests.

By contrast, England's Billy Twelvetrees and Brad Barritt will be playing just their second match together after the 38-18 win over Scotland at Twickenham.

The talented Twelvetrees marked his Test debut with a well-taken try while Barritt, one of the heroes of England's victory over world champions New Zealand in December, anchored the defence.

"There are selection decisions across the field and that's one of them. Billy played well and Brad's contribution as always was positive," Lancaster said.

"But Manu [Tuilagi] brings a unique set of skills and attributes to the game and the team, as we saw in his performance against the All Blacks."

D'Arcy, however, was relishing the challenge.

"Manu's a unique player and a powerhouse. His ability to get over the gainline is phenomenal," he said.

"But Brian and I love defending. We've always been up against really good players over the years and we've always held our own."

Twelvetrees certainly made his presence felt against Scotland but, if selected, is unlikely to have things all his own way in Dublin, where England have not won a Championship match since they last completed a Grand Slam months before their 2003 World Cup triumph.

Indeed such has been the turnaround since Lancaster first took charge last year that England – who did win a 2011 World Cup warm-up match in Dublin – are unlikely to have many survivors from the team that saw a Grand Slam dashed at Lansdowne Road two years ago.

One of the exceptions is Chris Ashton. For the wing, who scored his 17th try in 30 Tests last week, the memory of that 24-8 thrashing under then England boss Martin Johnson remains vivid.

"In the changing room it felt quite tense and isolated. The environment now and the culture of the team have altered because of what Stuart Lancaster has done," Ashton said.

Yet for all the pace and talent behind both scrums, the breakdown battle between back rows led by Heaslip and England captain Chris Robshaw is set to determine the outcome of Sunday's match.

Players to watch:

For Ireland: Brian O'Driscoll turned back the clock and was integral in last weekend’s win over Wales and the hosts will look to him to produce another influential performance this weekend. Rory Best will be eager to continue his fine form and will be in England’s faces throughout.   

For England: All the build up on England’s side this week has centred around the return of Manu Tuilagi and what that means for Billy Twelvetrees following the latter’s try-scoring debut last weekend. They are contrasting players and will both have a job to do on Sunday. Also keep an eye on Ben Youngs in the No.9 jersey. He looked sharp against Scotland and formed a good partnership with Owen Farrell.  

Head to Head: The key clash on Sunday is undoubtedly that between Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell at No.10. The general of their respective sides, their decision-making, execution and goal-kicking will be crucial. Chris Robshaw was outstanding last weekend and his battle with Sean O'Brien promises to be explosive while Simon Zebo against Chris Ashton will be an intriguing match-up.   

Recent results:

2012: England won 30-9 at Twickenham, London
2011: England won 20-9 at Aviva Stadium, Dublin
2011: Ireland won 24-8 at Aviva Stadium, Dublin
2010: Ireland won 20-16 at Twickenham, London
2009: Ireland won 14-13 at Croke Park, Dublin
2008: England won 33-10 at Twickenham, London

Prediction: This one is tough to call. Both teams showed good form last weekend, England’s victory arguably slightly more impressive despite coming against lesser opponents. They’ll be disappointed that they let in two tries but they nevertheless made a statement that they’ll be the team to beat in this year’s Six Nations. What Ireland’s win did for their confidence, however, cannot be underestimated and they’ll be a particularly tough nut to crack at home. While an Irish in won’t be a big surprise, England should be able to sneak to a third consecutive victory over Ireland by five points.


Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip (captain), 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 4 Mike McCarthy, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 David Kilcoyne, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Donncha O'Callaghan, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ronan O'Gara, 23 Keith Earls.

England: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Brad Barritt, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Mike Brown, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Tom Wood, 7 Chris Robshaw (captain), 6 James Haskell, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 David Wilson, 18 Mako Vunipola, 19 Courtney Lawes 20 Thomas Waldrom, 21 Danny Care, 22 Toby Flood, 23 Manu Tuilagi.

Date: Sunday, February 10
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 15.00 (15.00 GMT)
Weather forecast: Overcast with a 40% chance of rain. High of 4°C and low of 1°C with north-westerly winds of 35-45 km/h.
Referee: Jérôme Garces (France)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Pascal Gauzere (France)
TMO: Iain Ramage (Scotland)

AFP and rugby365

PV: 5

Preview: Ireland V England - England | Rugby365