England v Ireland
Twickenham Stadium, Sunday 23rd @3pm. (Virgin One & ITV)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
When looking at the events of the last few months, it’s hard not to conclude that this might be an ideal time to face the English. A side that looked unbeatable after their World Cup semi-final demolition of New Zealand now look far more mortal.
The Irish visit to the home of English rugby is the first home fixture for Eddie Jones’ side since the World Cup. English Rugby, in general, has endured a turbulent few months. Saracens, who contribute six of the side set to start on Sunday, have been relegated to the Championship for illegal payments to players. The Championship itself has had it’s budget slashed in half, meaning that full-professionalism will no longer be sustainable for the majority of it’s clubs.
Confidence and momentum has been slowly rebuilding within the Irish camp. The 46-14 obliteration by the All-Blacks in the W.C. quarter-final still hangs over the side. A 19-12 win over the Scottish was functional, if a tad underwhelming. They followed that up with a far more impressive 24-14 bonus-point win over the Welsh. Now Andy Farrell’s Irish side face their biggest test of the post-Japan era with a trip to Twickenham to face World Cup finalists England on their home turf.
Eddie Jones’ men have shown signs of regression since their 19-7 semi-final win over the All-Blacks in Yokohama. Their 32-12 defeat to South Africa the final was as flat a performance, as the previous game had been scintillating.
In the opening round of the Six Nations in Paris, England found themselves 24-0 behind to an inexperienced, but exciting, French side after 55 minutes. They regrouped to salvage a last-minute losing bonus-point. Then six days later in a stormy Murrayfield, a try from Ellis Genge was to prove the difference between the sides in a 6-13 win.
Both sides have injuries and absentees to contend with. Ireland lost Garry Ringrose to injury at half-time against Scotland. However, Robbie Henshaw is a more than capable deputy. Caelan Doris, cruelly, succumbed to a concussion injury only two minutes into his debut. Peter O’Mahony came off the bench to reclaim his jersey. There is one change from the side that beat Wales. Iain Henderson has been forced to withdraw due to the early arrival of his new-born son. Leinster’s Devin Toner starts, while Ultan Dillane is promoted to the bench.
The Vunipola brothers, Mako and Billy, are a big loss to the physicality of the English team. Full-back George Furbank is ruled out this weekend due to injury. In the ensuing reshuffle, Elliot Daly moves to full-back and Jamie Joseph moves to the wing. Daly’s boot gives England another kicking option in their backline. Other threats with the boot come from George Ford at 10 and Owen Farrell at 12. Given the wet and windy weather forecasters are predicting for London on Sunday we can expect a deluge of ariel bombardment from both sides.
It’s poised to be a close game, with one moment of magic or one error capable of deciding it either way. The inclusion of Manu Tuilagi on his return from injury adds serious bulk to the English midfield. His battle with Aki & Henshaw will be worth watching. The bookies have England at -7.5 on the handicap. So if I was a betting man I’d be backing Ireland to cover the spread.
English team to face Ireland
- Joe Marler
- Jamie George
- Kyle Sinkler
- Mari Itoje
- George Kruis
- Courtney Lawes
- Sam Underhill
- Tom Curry
- Ben Youngs
- George Ford
- Jonathan Joseph
- Owen Farrell
- Maun Tuilagi
- Jonny May
- Elliot Daly
Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Joe Launchbury, Charlie Ewels,
Ben Earl, Willi Heinz, Henry Slade