Preview: Ireland v England
SIX NATIONS ROUND ONE: This is the match that has attracted the most, and the most fervid, attention.
It will go a long way to determining the winner of this year’s competition – a competition which both countries are capable of winning.
The two countries are not far apart.
The flying time from London to Dublin is about an hour and a quarter, but culturally the two countries are poles apart and historically, from 1166, there has been hostility, often bitter, between the two.
Now, in the midst of the Brexit turmoil, it is Ireland with its backstop that is producing a painful twist to the lion’s tail.
In terms of playing numbers, England is a bigger rugby playing country than Ireland – two million to 150 thousand.
But then the population differences between the two island nations is considerable – England with some 53 million, the island of Ireland with some six and a half million.
Not that the Irish would use numerical differences to deter them from taking on the bigger lot from across the Irish Sea.
Recent history is certainly on Ireland’s side as the two bits of Ireland come together with a common goal, an uncommon unification of the people of the small island.
Players to Watch
For Ireland: Conor Murray (RPI 80), who is surely the best scrumhalf in the world, having all the virtues of a great scrumhalf and putting them into action with effortless ease. He is probably Ireland’s most valuable player. Watch him. You would also want to watch flyhalf Johnny Sexton (RPI 92). Amongst the forward, brave, relentless Peter O’Mahony (RPI 93) is a man to watch.
For England: There is the back three – all of whom can turn slight opportunities into great moments – Elliot Daly (RPI 73), Jonny May (RPI 73) and Jack Nowell (RPI 86). In the pack, there are the bustling Vunipolas, Billy(RPI 83) and Mako (RPI 87), and skilful, energetic Maro Itoje (RPI 93) at lock.
Head to Head: Back three versus Back three – Daly, May and Nowell versus Robbie Henshaw, better known as a centre, Keith Earls and Stockdale. Now that Rob Kearney, with the Gaelic footballer’s aerial skills, is missing, England may seek to box kick more, which does not take a lot of imagination. Front three versus Front three – Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best and Cian Healy versus Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George and Mako Vunipola. That should be a great battle with the money probably on the Irish in the scrums and about the field. Back row versus Back row – Christiaan Stander, Josh van der Flier and O’Mahony versus Billy Vunipola, Tom Curry, Mark Wilson. Bench versus Bench – and England seem to have the edge here and important edge as the game moves into the last quarter. Those are units in the contest. There will also be some individual battles. Goalkicker versus Goalkicker – Sexton versus Owen Farrell with long-range back-up from Daly. Sexton has the better kicking stats – 88 percent success against Farrell’s 83 percent but both are accomplished kickers. There could also be a good battle between Billy Vunipola and Christiaan Stander. Stander may well have greater energy and allround skill but Vunipola has greater power.
The match dates back to 1875, and in the 133 matches played between the two countries, England lead 76-49 with eight draws. But the Six Nations tells a different story: 19 matches played and Ireland lead 11-8. England has had just two Six Nations wins in Dublin while the Irish has won four times in London.
Recent history is not on England’s side.
Recent Six Nations results
2018: Ireland won 24-15 at Twickenham
2017: Ireland won 13-9 at Lansdowne Rd
2016: England won 21-10 at Twickenham
2015: Ireland won 19-9 at Lansdowne Rd
2014: England won 13-10 at Twickenham
2013: England won 12-6 at Lansdowne Rd
2012: England won 30-9 at Twickenham
2011: Ireland won 24-8 at Lansdowne Rd
2010: Ireland won 20-16 at Twickenham
2009: Ireland won 14-13 at Croke Park
Results in 2018
England played 12 matches, winning six and losing six.
Ireland played 12 matches, winning 11 and losing one – to Australia in Brisbane.
England lost a series in South Africa; Ireland won a series in Australia.
Results against Common Opponents
New Zealand: England lost 15-16; Ireland won 16-9
Australia: England won 37-18 at Twickenham; Ireland lost 9-18 in Brisbane and won 26-21 in Melbourne and 20-16 in Sydney
France: England lost 16-22; Ireland won 15-13
Italy: England win 46-15; Ireland won 56-19
Wales: England won 12-6; Ireland won 37-27
Scotland: England lost 13-25; Ireland won 28-8
Prediction: We feel Ireland will win a high-scoring match by seven points.
Ireland: 15 Robbie Henshaw, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Christiaan Stander, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahoney, 5 James Ryan, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Sean O’Brien, 21 John Cooney, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Jordan Larmour.
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jonny May, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Jack Nowell, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Mark Wilson, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Dan Robson, 22 George Ford, 23 Chris Ashton.
Date: Saturday, February 2
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 16.45 (16.45 GMT)
Expected weather conditions: Cold! It will be partly cloudy with a slight chance of a little rain. The temperature will move up to a high of 5°C, dropping to 1°C, which is cold but warmer than it had been on previous days in the week. There will be a gusting northwester getting up to 17 km/h.
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
By Paul Dobson