England start as favourites at Twickenham, having outmuscled the men in green in their three previous clashes. A likely place in the competition final awaits the victors
Autumn Nations Cup England v Ireland preview
Issues for both teams, around matters of style and substance. So as ever there’s plenty at stake when England and Ireland square up at Twickenham on Saturday in round two of the Autumn Nations Cup (kick-off 3pm).
Ireland are six games into life under Andy Farrell. They have beaten Scotland, Italy and Wales (twice), yet fallen well short against England and France. Doubts have been raised over their ability to go toe to toe with the more physical sides.
Bernard Jackman certainly sees it that way. Speaking to RW shortly after Leinster’s recent Champions Cup defeat by Saracens, the former Ireland hooker said: “England came to the Aviva at the start of the 2019 Six Nations and absolutely rocked Ireland (32-20).
“In the 2019 European final, Saracens’ power game was too strong for Leinster. Then there was the World Cup warm-up at Twickenham, a hammering (57-15) that left a psychological mark on Ireland in Japan.
“Ireland went to England in this year’s Six Nations and again it’s pretty demoralising how the game unfolded (24-12). And now Leinster have been outplayed badly at the set-piece and breakdown by a Saracens side missing a lot of players.
“It’s a huge blow to Leinster and to Ireland, because Leinster produce the most players for Ireland (nine in Saturday’s starting XV). There’s going to be that nagging doubt that when we come up against England or France, physically powerful teams, are we able to compete?”
Farrell’s team selection (see team news below) reflects a desire to match fire with fire, most notably with the omission of a specialist openside.
England have won five on the bounce since losing in Paris at the start of the year, a run that coincided with a third Six Nations title under Eddie Jones.
However, few were impressed by the somewhat colourless nature of their 40-0 defeat of Georgia last weekend. And that includes Georgia’s head coach Levan Maisashvili, who took a swipe at Jones and Co when saying that Wales (their next opponents) “have way more options in attack compared to England”.
So less bludgeon and more rapier from England this week? Don’t bet on it. Jones loves being able to bully teams up front and is happy to favour prosaic over romantic rugby if it brings him results. And can you blame him?
With both sides having won their opening ANC game, this match should decide who will make the final from Pool A in early December. Fiji’s non participation because of Covid has harmed the tournament, so there is even more reason than usual to hope England and Ireland can serve up something memorable.
What’s the big team news?
After the comfortable outing against Georgia, England revert to a more established line-up, changing half their pack. Mako Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler swap in for Ellis Genge and Will Stuart at prop, while Tom Curry and Sam Underhill reprise their familiar back-row unit in tandem with Billy Vunipola.
Jack Willis drops out of the match 23 while Maro Itoje switches back to the engine room alongside Joe Launchbury. Exeter’s Jonny Hill, who made his debut against Italy on Six Nations Super Saturday, pips Bath captain Charlie Ewels to the role of replacement lock.
Also on the bench is George Ford, in line for his first Test appearance since the win against Wales eight months ago. The Tigers fly-half has spent more than 20 hours in an oxygen chamber to quicken his recover from an Achilles tendon problem.
Related content: Ford scores against Ireland after fumble
With Ford being eased back, Ollie Lawrence gets another start in midfield – a first opportunity to show he can deliver against really top-class opponents.
Ireland have made four changes from the side that beat Wales, two of them enforced.
Johnny Sexton (hamstring) and Robbie Henshaw (abductor) are injured, so fly-half Ross Byrne gets only his second Test start – his first was at the same ground in that RWC 2019 warm-up. Bundee Aki replaces Henshaw in a robust-looking Irish midfield.
Keith Earls, fit again after a back injury, replaces Munster team-mate Andrew Conway for his first Test start since the World Cup. And the selection of major ball-carrier CJ Stander in the back row, ahead of Will Connors and last week’s pick Josh van der Flier, underlines Ireland’s intent to match England’s renowned physicality.
Jamison Gibson Park retains the No 9 jersey ahead of Conor Murray. And Ulster duo Jacob Stockdale and Iain Henderson, who were both late withdrawals from the match against Wales, are named on the bench.
What have the coaches said?
England head coach Eddie Jones: “I’ve picked the strongest team possible for the most important game of our season. We have the highest respect for Ireland and their coach Andy Farrell. They’ve had good preparation with two wins and a dominant display against Wales, and we will need to be at our best.
“We’ve trained well this week, we’re expecting a tough, physical game against Ireland and we’ve reflected that in our sessions. We’ll look to lift our performance even higher.
“Ireland are the strongest poaching team in the world. We need an aggressive, low-to-the-ground back row and Tom Curry and Sam Underhill are outstanding in that area.”
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell: “There’s a reason why teams can be physical. Teams that are physical tend to have a flow to their game, playing in the right parts of the field.
“We know that England’s game is very much a territory-based game and they try and force errors upon you, and obviously play in your half.
“We weren’t able to be physical in our last outing at Twickenham because they harassed us in many areas and we weren’t quite clinical enough in our exiting, in our set-piece.”
On new captain James Ryan: “I’ve seen a curiosity in James over the last nine months of him maturing regarding his leadership. Over the last couple of years everyone’s talked about James being a potential leader for this team.
“When we went into the start of the Six Nations, he probably started to think, ‘People are talking about me in this vein, maybe I should start doing something about it’.”
On Ross Byrne: “He has played big games for Leinster and this is his chance to go to Twickenham and show what he’s got. I’ve no concerns whatsoever about his temperament.
“He will play his game and he will be his own guy. His style is cool, calm and collected.”
Any interesting statistics?
* England have won nine of their last 12 Tests against Ireland, including a 24-12 win in this year’s Six Nations
* Ireland are aiming for their 50th Test win against England, a milestone they’ve already achieved against Scotland (65) and Wales (55)
* England won all 22 of their lineout throws against Georgia last week – the only side in round one of the Autumn Nations Cup with a 100% success rate. It was the most by a Tier One side since Wales at the 2015 World Cup (25/25 v Uruguay)
* England conceded just five penalties against the Lelos
* Owen Farrell needs just six points to become England’s record scorer against Ireland – the fly-half is on 102, five behind Jonny Wilkinson
* James Ryan becomes the second player in the pro era to make his Ireland captaincy debut at Twickenham – Ronan O’Gara did the same in 2008 in a match Ireland lost 33-10
* The last time Ireland beat England without Johnny Sexton starting was in the Grand Slam year of 2009, when O’Gara was at ten in a 14-13 success at Croke Park
* England have won 26 of their last 29 home games. Ireland (in 2018) and New Zealand are the only sides to prevail at Twickenham during that time
* Elliot Daly has scored five tries against Ireland – only Rory Underwood (seven) and Cyril Lowe (six) have managed more
* Joe Launchbury becomes the fourth player to start 50 Tests for England at second-row after Martin Johnson, Wade Dooley and Danny Grewcock
* Ireland kicked six penalty goals against Wales last week – only the second time in 15 years they have landed so many
What time does it kick off and is it on TV?
England v Ireland, Saturday 21 November, Twickenham
The match kicks off at 3pm and will be broadcast live on Channel 4, Amazon Prime Video and RTE. There is also match commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra and BBC Radio Ulster.
With the Italy-Fiji match now cancelled, Amazon Prime will start their England-Ireland coverage from 2pm. Host Gabby Logan will have Dylan Hartley, Paul O’Connell and Bryan Habana for company as pundits. Andrew Cotter, David Flatman and Shane Horgan are on comms and Rob Vickerman is the pitchside reporter.
If you’re outside the UK and Ireland, check out our guide to Autumn Nations Cup coverage around the world.
There’s a French officiating team in place for this one, with Pascal Gaüzère taking the whistle and Mathieu Raynal and Alex Ruiz holding the flags. The TMO is Nigel Owens, one week before he becomes the first person to referee 100 Test matches.
What are the line-ups?
England: Elliot Daly; Jonathan Joseph, Ollie Lawrence, Henry Slade, Jonny May; Owen Farrell (capt), Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Joe Launchbury, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Jonny Hill, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Dan Robson, 22 George Ford, 23 Max Malins.
Ireland: Hugo Keenan; Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Bundee Aki, James Lowe; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson Park; Cian Healy, Ronan Kelleher, Andrew Porter, Quinn Roux, James Ryan (capt), CJ Stander, Peter O’Mahony, Caelan Doris.
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