After the drubbing by Ireland in London last year, can England return the compliment? Here's the team news, stats and TV details you need for the Six Nations match in Dublin
Six Nations Ireland v England Preview
Last year this fixture was the sumptuous main course on the final day; this time it merely completes the opening weekend.
So Aviva fever is a certainty on Saturday evening as Ireland, in Joe Schmidt’s final Six Nations, start the defence of their title against the reborn and revitalised English.
As Jason Leonard for one has pointed out, Ireland are the indisputable favourites. Not just this weekend but for the championship as a whole.
The QBE Rugby Predictor – a bit of fun but with solid empirical data to back it up – is forecasting a 20-17 Irish win and a 42% chance they will retain their title.
For the record, before the whole caboodle kicks off, England (28%) and Wales (24%) are regarded as near equals while Scotland (4%), France (2%) and Italy (0%) are pretty much without hope. Thus speaks the computer!
Ireland’s stock has never been as high. They have three provinces in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals and you have to think a Leinster B side would give any club in Europe a run for their money.
Half-backs Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray get the lion’s share of the plaudits but it’s a team littered with stars, from the globe’s best tighthead Tadhg Furlong to classy but contrasting wide men Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale.
England will not be intimidated, despite last year’s chastening 24-15 defeat on home turf. In the likes of Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and the powerhouse Vunipola brothers, they possess world-class talent of their own and it should be remembered that they were only a disallowed try away from completing a clean sweep of southern hemisphere scalps last autumn.
Is this clash a harbinger of the World Cup performances to come? No, it is not. History shows that England in 2003 were the last team to back up a Six Nations title with a World Cup showing to be proud of.
Nevertheless, the stakes are high. The losers forfeit control of their championship destiny – not a position you want to be in with the warmer climes of spring still many weeks away.
Naturally, there’s been verbal jousting ahead of the clash. Ex-Ireland No 9 Peter Stringer has said Owen Farrell is “a great player but a hothead. Going backwards he’s a guy who loses the rag completely, which you don’t want from your captain. You can get under a lot of these guys, you can rattle them. Ireland’s discipline is very good. England’s not so much.”
John Mitchell’s reference to Ireland being boring (see below) prompted Brian O’Driscoll to say: “Ireland pulled England apart at Twickenham last year. That set play that was very clever where CJ Stander scored… I don’t know if there was much boredom in that.”
What’s the big team news?
Ireland’s big call is the selection of centre Robbie Henshaw at full-back. Regular choice Rob Kearney is not long back from injury and so Henshaw will make his first Test appearance in the 15 shirt since his debut against USA in June 2013.
Jordan Larmour will serve as cover on a bench also featuring Sean O’Brien, fit again after breaking his arm against Argentina in November. Conor Murray returns at scrum-half after missing the autumn series with a neck injury and John Cooney will win his first cap if, as expected, he replaces him at some stage in the second half.
Johnny Sexton, the World Rugby Player of the Year, starts at fly-half having recovered from knee tendon issues but hasn’t played since 29 December.
There are only three changes from the Ireland XV that started the Grand Slam victory in London last March, with Henshaw, Devin Toner and Josh van der Flier the men stepping in.
England’s headline maker is Manu Tuilagi, who after years of injury disruption will make his first Test start since the 2014 tour of New Zealand. It will be only his 28th cap.
The Leicester centre replaces the injured Ben Te’o and will slot in between Farrell and Henry Slade as Eddie Jones opts to keep his skipper Farrell at No 10, rather than shift him to 12 and accommodate George Ford.
Elliot Daly will continue at full-back, even though many feel he’s best suited to the left-wing berth occupied this weekend by Exeter’s Jack Nowell, who’s looking hungrier than ever after a recent return to action.
Replacement scrum-half Dan Robson is set to win his first cap – it is richly deserved.
What have the coaches said?
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt: “I think it’s going to be exhilarating. It’s going to be edge of the seat because I don’t think there’s a huge amount between the teams.
“I do people are going to be entertained. And one of the great things about the Aviva Stadium is that the entertainment is partially provided by those outside the pitch supporting the team in the manner that they do.”
England head coach Eddie Jones: “To beat Ireland you have to beat them in the contest area. They are very good at the breakdown and in the air. Both those areas are a priority for us.
“I just felt for this game the best option was to play Owen at ten and Manu as a like-for-like replacement for Ben Te’o. Manu has impressed us at the training camp and is right to play.
“It is nice to have Mako and Billy back. Mako is obviously a world-class loosehead. We missed him during the autumn but he has come back in good nick and really committed to be the best he can be. With Billy we haven’t had him for a long time. He’s also in great nick.
“It is well documented that no one thinks we can win but everyone inside our camp believes we can win.”
England defence coach John Mitchell: “Ireland are arguably the best in the world. Through their process and being a well-coached side, they will try to bore us basically. In many ways it will be about who wants to be more patient than the other.”
Any interesting statistics?
* Ireland and England have met 19 times in the Six Nations (since 2000). Ireland lead the head-to-head by 11 wins to eight.
* It’s eight years since England scored a try in Dublin. They scored three in 2011 – Steve Thompson in the Six Nations, and Manu Tuilagi and Delon Armitage in a World Cup warm-up.
* Jonny May is England’s joint highest try-scorer (with Jonathan Joseph) since Eddie Jones took charge at the start of 2016. They’ve each scored 12 Test tries in that time.
* Maro Itoje has won 27 turnovers for Saracens and England combined this season – the most by any player in Europe’s top three domestic leagues.
* England’s XV includes only two players who started the 12-6 win in Dublin six years ago – Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs.
* Ireland are on a national record of 12 successive home wins. Their only defeat in their past 19 Tests was against Australia last June.
* England have only lost an opening-round championship match three times since Italy’s inclusion made it the Six Nations in 2000. Wales (2005 and 2008) and France (2014) are the three occasions to date.
* Brian Ashton has been involved in the respective teams’ biggest wins in the fixture – both times on the receiving end. Ashton was Ireland’s head coach when they subsided 46-6 at home to England in 1997, and was in charge of England for their 43-13 rout at Croke Park ten years later. Rory Best played in that 2007 match.
What time does it kick off and is it on TV?
The match at the Aviva Stadium kicks off at 4.45pm UK time on Saturday and is live on ITV. There will also be live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live and online, and TV highlights on BBC2 on Sunday at 5.15pm.
The referee is 45-year-old Frenchman Jérôme Garcès, with touchline assistance from compatriots Pascal Gauzere and Alexandre Ruiz. The TMO is New Zealand’s Glenn Newman.
What are the line-ups?
Ireland: Robbie Henshaw; Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale; Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best (capt), Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, James Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Sean O’Brien, 21 John Cooney, 22 Joey Carbery, Jordan Larmour.
England: Elliot Daly; Jonny May, Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi, Jack Nowell, Owen Farrell (capt), Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Mark Wilson, Tom Curry, Billy 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.
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