Here is everything you need to know ahead of a meaty encounter in Twickenham
Six Nations England v Ireland preview
There’s no going back now, the promise has been made. Eddie Jones said this week that “Ireland haven’t played a game as physical as this for a long time” – there will be collisions, oh yes.
And you know what, even if this is so much more of the same old patter, there is no escaping the fact that Ireland are going to have to nip into Twickenham and enforce their will on England’s pack if they are to come away with anything. It’s a job they took on willingly against France, but only after being rocked and a little shocked in the opening 20 minutes. In the end they couldn’t quite squeak it.
Last year, in an empty Aviva, Ireland were ruthless against England, in what would be CJ Stander’s last Test match. The 32-18 victory was doubly impressive as they did so despite a red card for Bundee Aki around the hour mark.
That man is back in again to face England, and Jones has already taken to talking about Ireland’s strengths, them being “the most cohesive side in the world”, the mischief Peter O’Mahony can create, as well as talking the other week about wanting to play unstructured stuff in attack…
With the dartboard spinning it’s hard to know which target he might hit (if any). But his opposite number, Andy Farrell says he enjoys all of Jones’s comments though from a distance. They are good for the game, he says. But Farrell added: “I also know Eddie’s said plenty of times in the past that praise makes you weak. So we make sure we concentrate on ourselves.”
Which means looking at the rugby and pondering if England can deliver on their promise and put on a show similar to the one that rocked the Boks in November. Tries have not exactly been raining down for England. Seven. That’s their total so far, compared to Ireland’s 16 (and yes, Ireland have played Italy, but so have England).
Binoculars will be trained on the breakdown, then. We already know that Ireland are dangerously efficient at the ruck, generating the kind of quick ball that has playmakers like Johnny Sexton purring. England need their Bok and awe best there.
Another intriguing thing about this Ireland side is what Farrell’s self-awareness means for selection. Back is Sexton and Andrew Conway is in, while James Lowe remains. Farrell has real conviction about what he needs. A year ago, the win over England signposted a big shift in the right direction for Ireland, following a spell where game after game there were questions about why Farrell kept picking certain players.
The man knows what he likes and this squad has developed into something serious. So no matter what is said, this England side have to detonate all of that carefully crafted stuff, with the introduction of a little chaos.
Prepare for the monster mash.
What’s the big team news?
Joe Marchant starts at outside-centre for England, with Elliot Daly dropping to the bench. In the forwards, Jamie George starts at hooker in place of the injured Luke Cowan-Dickie and Sam Simmonds starts at No 8 ahead of Alex Dombrandt, who drops to the bench. Jamie Blamire and Joe Launchbury also return to the match-day 23.
Andy Farrell has made six changes for Ireland. Johnny Sexton starts ahead of Joey Carbery and partners Jamison Gibson-Park at half-back. Hugo Keenan returns at full-back, replacing Michael Lowry who scored a brace on his debut against Italy, with Andrew Conway in for Mack Hansen, who drops out of the squad.
James Lowe retains his shirt on the other wing and Bundee Aki comes back in to partner Garry Ringrose in the centre.
In the forwards, Cian Healy wins his 115th Ireland cap as he starts with Andrew Porter injured and James Ryan comes in for Ryan Baird.
What have the two camps said?
England full-back Freddie Steward:“I think it’s been a brilliant way to look at it for us, it gives us something to attack, giving it that semi-final nature and knockout feel. If we win this game obviously we take it to the next one, but all eyes are on Ireland for the minute, we’re attacking this semi-final and that’s what we’re focused on.”
Ireland flanker Peter O’Mahony: “It’d be foolish to say there isn’t always something special between the two of us. It’s always a huge occasion, a huge encounter. The fact that they’re consistently a world-class outfit, it’s always a huge test for any team to play against them.
“That’s the way it goes. It certainly is a huge occasion when Ireland and England play each other.”
Any interesting statistics?
- England have won four of their last five home games against Ireland in the Six Nations.
- Ireland have an average ruck speed of 2.89 seconds. England are fourth quickest in the Six Nations with an average of 3.78 seconds.
- Under Eddie Jones, England have played 38 times at Twickenham, winning 34 of those. One of their three losses was to Ireland.
- Ireland stolen seven lineouts. That’s more than any other side, accounting for 18% of the lineouts they’ve faced.
- Maro Itoje and Josh van der Flier have both hit 104 rucks this tournament – at least 20 more than any other players.
- Marcus Smith is the leading points scorer in the competition, with 48.
What time does it kick off and is it on TV?
England v Ireland, Saturday 12 March, Twickenham
This match kicks off at 4.45pm and will be broadcast live on ITV and BBC Radio 5 Live.
Referee for the match will be France’s Mathieu Raynal. His assistants will be Mike Adamson (SRU) and Pierre Brousset (FFR). The TMO is South African Marius Jonker.
What are the line-ups?
England: Freddie Steward; Max Malins, Joe Marchant, Henry Slade, Jack Nowell; Marcus Smith, Harry Randall; Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Charlie Ewels, Courtney Lawes (captain), Tom Curry, Sam Simmonds.
Replacements: Jamie Blamire, Joe Marler, Will Stuart, Joe Launchbury, Alex Dombrandt, Ben Youngs, George Ford, Elliot Daly.
Ireland: Hugo Keenan; Andrew Conway, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (captain), Jamison Gibson Park; Cian Healy, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.
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Replacements: Rob Herring, Dave Kilcoyne, Finlay Bealham, Iain Henderson, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Joey Carbery, Robbie Henshaw.