Ireland return to the scene of their 2018 Grand Slam party, but can England turn the tables? Here's team news, stats and TV details for the Six Nations game at Twickenham
Six Nations England v Ireland preview
The halfway point of the Guinness Six Nations. Ireland come to Twickenham in search of a Triple Crown, whilst England remain bang in the title mix themselves after a losing bonus point in Paris and an ugly win at wind-battered Murrayfield.
Sunday’s clash sees a tale of two coaches. Eddie Jones gave Andy Farrell his first coaching experience in union while at Saracens in 2008. It proved a springboard to the England defence job from 2011-15, but when Jones took over at HQ he decided not to keep Farrell on. “The situation was complicated because he was Owen’s father,” he said in his autobiography.
Jones tried to re-sign Farrell after Paul Gustard’s unexpected departure in 2018, but Farrell opted to stay with the Ireland team that he had helped emboss as European champions. And here we are, Farrell returns to his old stamping ground as Ireland head coach and hoping to get one over his old boss.
It looks too tight to call. Ireland certainly looked more accomplished against Wales (24-14) than against the Scots (19-12), though they were repeatedly penalised for going off their feet at the breakdown. That may have influenced the decision to retain Peter O’Mahony (also an exceptional lineout operator) instead of restore an extra ball-carrier in Caelan Doris.
That said, Ireland’s ruck efficiency has picked up where it left off under Joe Schmidt. Their 98.2% of rucks won, 128 of them in less than three seconds, is topping the stats and they have lost just four rucks in their first two games.
DID YOU KNOW? England are the only side yet to break the 1,000-running metre mark in the 2020 Guinness Six Nations. However, they have kicked for 2,389 metres – more than 1,000 metres more than both Scotland (1,360) and Wales (1,378).
Whether it will be a day for running rugby we shall see but Ireland’s back three is in excellent form. Brian O’Driscoll said of Andrew Conway: “He’s become a complete player: aerially very good, defensively super sound and knows where the try-line is.” The Munster wing has scored nine tries in 11 starts for his country.
England had a wretched first half in France (17-24) and prevailed in a diabolical match in Scotland (13-6). They will welcome returning to Twickenham and hopefully hitting their straps, as they did when putting 50 points on Ireland last August.
Jones took England to the brink of the world title less than four months ago, yet is being regularly criticised on selection. Andy Nicol, the ex-Scotland captain, said: “International rugby is all about selection. I’ve never understood why England coaches, who’ve got such player depth, play players out of position. I just don’t get it.
“He (Jones) is being stubborn about his view on Tom Curry. He’s seeing something that no one in this world is seeing that he’s a No 8. He’s an outstanding flanker, let him play flanker.” Sentiments that were supported by Curry’s Sale team-mate Faf de Klerk on Friday night.
The English back row went well at Murrayfield, Sam Underhill winning Man of the Match. However, Lewis Ludlam has dropped out of the match-day squad as Jones has sprung new surprises (see team news below).
Aside from Ireland’s Grand Slam campaigns of 2009 and 2018, they last bagged Triple Crowns in 2004, 2006 and 2007 under Eddie O’Sullivan. Each time they failed to win the championship.
What’s the big team news?
Jones has opted for five specialist locks in his 23. They include Courtney Lawes, who returns to the back row at the expense of Ludlam following the ‘three sevens’ strategy in Scotland.
But the biggest surprise is the selection of Jonathan Joseph, winning his 50th cap, on the wing. All of the Bath centre’s 38 Test starts have been in midfield.
Elliot Daly, who played wing in the first two rounds, reverts to his usual role of full-back in the absence of George Furbank, who has “a long-term groin and hip injury”, says Jones.
Ben Youngs is back at nine for his 98th cap, Manu Tuilagi returns after missing the Scotland game through a groin injury, and Henry Slade (ankle) is also fit again and is on the bench.
Mako Vunipola, whose 27 tackles and 11 carries earned him the Man of the Match accolade in Dublin last year, is unavailable for England having flown back to Tonga for family reasons.
Ireland named the same XV that started against Wales but were forced into a late change. Iain Henderson has dropped out following the birth of his second child, so Devin Toner – deployed off the bench in the first two rounds – starts. Ultan Dillane comes into the match 23.
No 8 Caelan Doris, who suffered a head knock in the opening minutes of his debut against Scotland, is fit to return but is named on the bench. Leinster colleague Max Deegan drops out of the match-day squad.
Robbie Henshaw has recovered from the head injury he incurred against Wales and resumes his centre partnership with Bundee Aki.
What have the coaches said?
England head coach Eddie Jones: “We’ve had a really good training week, with Thursday probably our best session of the Six Nations. Ireland are a very good team, extremely well coached. They’re a team we respect a lot. They will bring their usual physicality and under Andy Farrell they’ve opened up their game a little bit.
“They are a tactically smart team. Murray and Sexton, who have played 170 Tests between them, at nine and 10 will manage the game well. We’ve got to make sure we match their physicality and their emotion.
“We trained at Twickenham in front of 10,000 fans last Friday and we can’t wait to get back out there in front of 80,000 people on Sunday.”
On Joseph’s switch: “We used him on the wing at the World Cup. He’s a great defender in space with good jumping skills.”
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell: “A few boys came back and gave us a few headaches but we decided to go with a similar selection and see if we can build on what we did last time round.
“Caelan Doris is fully recovered. He’s been training with us and we’re looking forward to him coming off the bench.
“We invited Paul (O’Connell) in to see what he thinks about the environment and as a sounding board for the lads. It’s great to have past players (here) and someone who the boys really respect.
“Obviously we had a fallow week (last week) and we took the lads down to Cork for a good couple of days. We’ve tried to put a few things right and hopefully we can get an improved performance off the back of that.”
Any interesting statistics?
* Ireland lead England 11-9 in their 20 Six Nations meetings (since 2000). Should they win on Sunday, it will be their 50th Test victory against the men in white.
* England have only lost seven home games in Six Nations history – and four of them have been against the Irish.
* Eddie Jones has a 78% win rate from his 52 Tests as England’s head coach. Andy Farrell sits at 100% from his two games in charge.
* Ireland have won 17 of their previous 20 round-three matches in the Six Nations – their most successful round (85%).
* Manu Tuilagi has achieved a 39% success rate of dominant carries for England under Eddie Jones – the best rate of any of the 40 players to make 30-plus carries in that period.
* England conceded just 11 penalties in their first two games, four fewer than any other side.
* Josh van der Flier has been first to reach a ruck on 63% of his arrivals – the best figure from any player hitting 40-plus rucks in the championship.
* Maro Itoje has 72 attacking breakdown arrivals – the most in the tournament.
* England made 47 kicks from hand in their round-two win in Scotland, equalling the record they set against France last year. Only Ireland (54, in 2003) and Italy (53, in 2009) have surpassed that figure.
* Jonny May is England’s highest try-scorer since Eddie Jones took charge at the start of 2016. He’s scored 23 Test tries in that time.
* Tadhg Furlong has scored four tries for Ireland since the start of 2019 – more than any other prop in Test rugby.
* Jordan Larmour has made the most running metres (257) in this year’s championship.
* Ireland’s last visit to Twickenham brought their heaviest defeat in the fixture – a 57-15 drubbing in a World Cup warm-up last August.
* Ireland’s 24-15 win in 2018 was their best result at Twickenham in the pro era. Their only bigger winning margin occured in 1964 (18-5).
What time does it kick off and is it on TV?
England v Ireland, Sunday 23 February, Twickenham (3pm).
England’s first home match of the year will be broadcast live on ITV, with radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra. There will be highlights of all three matches from the men’s championship on Six Nations Rugby Special on BBC2 at 6pm on Sunday.
Match referee is South Africa’s Jaco Peyper, supported by France’s Romain Poite and Alex Ruiz with the flags and TMO Marius Jonker from South Africa. Peyper got in hot water with his bosses at this season’s World Cup when posing for an “inappropriate” photo with Welsh fans after the quarter-final against France.
What are the line-ups?
England: Elliot Daly; Jonny May, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell (capt), Jonathan Joseph; George Ford, Ben Youngs; Joe Marler, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Courtney Lawes, Sam Underhill, Tom Curry.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Charlie Ewels, 21 Ben Earl, 22 Willi Heinz, 23 Henry Slade.
Ireland: Jordan Larmour; Andrew Conway, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale; Johnny Sexton (capt), Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rob Herring, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, James Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander.
Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Caelen Doris, 21 John Cooney, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Keith Earls.
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