Can Ireland win a Grand Slam? Here’s all the team news, battle areas and TV details you need ahead of their match against England
Six Nations England v Ireland Preview
Ireland head to Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day with the aim of winning only the third Grand Slam in the country’s history. England head to Twickenham with the aim of avoiding a third Six Nations defeat in a single championship for the first time since 2006.
When the fixtures were announced, people anticipated that this match would be a title decider. Instead, Ireland wrapped up the title last week and England’s dream of becoming the first team to win three consecutive championships ended with a miserable performance in Paris. England are now playing for pride while Ireland are playing for Grand Slam glory.
Ireland have shown confidence in their team, making just one change to the side that beat Scotland. Iain Henderson – the man who ended England’s Slam hopes 12 months ago with a try in Dublin – returns to the second row, with Devin Toner on the bench.
England, in contrast, have made seven personnel changes as well as two positional ones. Dylan Hartley returns from injury to captain the side while Kyle Sinckler, George Kruis, James Haskell and Sam Simmonds all come into the starting pack. Jonathan Joseph and Richard Wigglesworth also start, with Owen Farrell moving to fly-half and Ben Te’o moving to inside-centre.
The sandwich filling to Super Saturday, this is set to be a cracker of a Test match – we look at what could be the decisive factors…
The Key Battle Areas
Mindset – Ireland are on a record run of 11 straight wins while England have lost successive games for the first time under Eddie Jones.
Confidence will be key. When you’re winning, there’s always that belief that you will come through, even if you’re not at your best. Yet as soon as you do lose that belief can crack. Will the pressure inspire England to deliver a much-needed win in front of their own fans, or will it cause more cracks to appear? There was certainly a lack of reaction at the Stade de France last weekend following the Calcutta Cup defeat.
The Irish, on the other hand, have the carrot of a Grand Slam dangling in front of them. This brings its own pressure, but will also be a huge motivation. Only Rob Kearney and Rory Best remain from the 2009 Slammers, and after two previous Six Nations titles under Joe Schmidt, going that one step further is an achievement all these players want on their CV.
They need to keep their cool, though, even when the Irish fans in the stadium are heating things up with the noise they will no doubt create with two reasons to celebrate – St Patrick’s Day and a championship!
Related: What is a Grand Slam?
Half-back – Ireland have arguably the best half-back pairing in the world in Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray, and the duo have been crucial to this Six Nations title. Able to mix their kicking and running games, England will need to be alert to the different threats they pose.
Sexton kept his cool in the closing minutes in Paris to build the position to slot that incredible drop-goal and he will need that same composed approach at Twickenham after the relative comfort of playing three straight home games.
England have changed their half-backs, Owen Farrell and Richard Wigglesworth starting in place of George Ford and Danny Care. The latter two struggled to impose themselves in the defeats to Scotland and France, finding it difficult to implement the game plan with slow ball.
The Saracens pair at nine and ten this weekend are likely to be more pragmatic – and able to impose themselves even when on the back foot. And they will need to be for Ireland are a physical team who will look to exploit any weaknesses at the contact area.
Lineout – Both these teams have a strong lineout. England captain Dylan Hartley has a 100% success rate with 22 throws taken in his three games. Ireland captain Rory Best has an 89% lineout success rate in this championship – 47 throws taken with only five missed.
Eddie Jones recognises the threat, this a set-piece where Ireland like to launch their maul, and has recalled George Kruis to the starting line-up in an attempt to counter it.
“We feel the lineout is going to be important against Ireland – they’ve got a very good lineout team with three recognised jumpers,” Jones said of James Ryan, Iain Henderson and Peter O’Mahony.
“Kruis is our best lineout exponent, he’s our best caller. Maro (Itoje) has been holding that responsibility throughout the Six Nations – now we’ve got two guys to do it, which will share the load.”
Gain-line – The breakdown has been a complete mess – shambles even – for England in the last two matches. Isolated runners have been penalised for holding on when brought to a halt and they haven’t been able to disrupt any of their opponent’s ball.
They need to bust the gain-line first so the defence is on the back foot. The decision to play Kyle Sinckler from the off and the switch of Ben Te’o to 12 was no doubt centred around this.
Yet they will also need to limit the impact of Ireland’s powerful carriers, of which there are many. In fact, of the top ten carriers in this championship, Ireland have five. CJ Stander leads the way on 72, followed by Bundee Aki (53), Dan Leavy (47), Jacob Stockdale (45) and Rob Kearney (45). That’s nearly triple the number of England’s two players on the list – Chris Robshaw on 45 and Jonny May on 44.
It doesn’t get any better when looking at defenders beaten. Ireland have three players at the top of the charts in Aki (14), Keith Earls (11) and Stockdale (10). England’s sole representative is Anthony Watson with ten.
So not only do England need to make sure they contain those Irish threats, they need to punch holes of their own. If they can do that, they could well find space out wide.
England: Anthony Watson; Jonny May; Jonathan Joseph, Ben Te’o, Elliot Daly; Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth; Mako Vunipola, Dylan Hartley (captain), Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Chris Robshaw, James Haskell, Sam Simmonds.
Replacements: Jamie George, Joe Marler, Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury, Don Armand, Danny Care, George Ford, Mike Brown.
Ireland: Rob Kearney; Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale; Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best (captain), Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan, Iain Henderson, Peter O’Mahony, Dan Leavy, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter, Devin Toner, Jordi Murphy, Kieran Marmion, Joey Carbery, Jordan Larmour.
What time does England v Ireland kick off?
England v Ireland, Saturday 17 March, 2.45pm, Twickenham
Australia’s Angus Gardner is the man with the whistle at Twickenham. His assistants are South African Jaco Peyper and Welshman Nigel Owens, who was a late appointment. World Rugby decided to bring in Owens after Marius van der Westhuizen, who had been scheduled to be an assistant, officiated an England training session earlier in the week.
Related: Assistant referee change at Twickenham
The TV Details
The game is live on ITV or you can listen to commentary on Radio 5 Live.
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