Date: 17th March 2012
Venue: Twickenham Stadium
Referee: Nigel Owens
The head says caution whilst the heart screams confidence. One win in Paris does not a great side make, but that said England are a team on the up, both on and off the field. When considering the new names in the side against Ireland; Botha, Parling, Robshaw, Morgan, Dickson, Farrell and Barritt, three wins from five matches would be a strong return. Turn it into four wins however, and the 2012 championship would have been an outstanding one.
Ireland approach this game on a relative high, having drawn in Paris and comfortably beaten both Scotland and Italy. They will still be smarting at the perceived late injustice against the Welsh which has cost them a chance of the title. They have still only beaten one Top 10 side since they beat England at the end of last year’s tournament, but recent performances against England suggest they have an upper hand. Recent Twickenham history is mixed (3 wins out of 5, with the two losses being heavy).
What to Expect:
BC: A fully functional lineout steered by the impressive Geoff Parling, whilst at least parity if not flashes of dominance in the scrum. It will be at the breakdown where England are made to work their hardest. Their tactics have been to make the numbers as few as possible in the rucks, but that requires clinical technique on securing possession as well as strength. One advantageous area has to be the centres, where Manu Tuilagi’s power will trouble Gordon D’Arcy and Keith Earls.
MB: Quite simply the closest match-up of the tournament. On paper, and allowing for current form, Ireland will feel they have the upper hand in the back 3 and back row, while most fans would admit that second row and centre sees England having the upper hand. The front row and half backs are too close to call. Ireland will therefore take it to England up front aiming to dominate at scrum time and both win their line-out ball and try to spoil England’s. The backs also need to gel and effectively use the potent threat of Bowe, Trimble and Kearney.
All Eyes On: Ben Morgan & Johnny Sexton
It was hard to take your eyes off Morgan in Paris. He probed and threatened and then when a poor kick from Dupuy landed in his arms, took off. It’s a sign of what the new Gloucester signing has to offer, a power arguably not seen since Lawrence Dallaglio in his pomp. Against the holy trio of Stephen Ferris, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip, Morgan will have to be at his most robust.
The two best fly halves of the tournament meet in this one, and after a better, if still not world-beating performance against Scotland, Sexton needs to have a big game on many fronts this weekend. He needs to control the game through accurate kicking, spin the ball wide to best utilise the wide threat, be an effective foil to D’Arcy and Earls in defence where they will come under pressure from Tuilagi and maybe most importantly he needs to rack up the points if England succumb to indiscipline. Sexton frequently saves his best for English opposition (as many seem to). Just ask Northampton….
Head-to-Head: Geoff Parling v Donnacha Ryan
19 tackles against Wales a fortnight ago marked Parling out as a force to be reckoned with. His initial leap ahead of Tom Palmer came as a surprise, but he has warranted his selection and alongside Botha the enforcer England for now have the perfect balance. The self-confessed “lineout nerd” could cement his place in the side with a solid showing this weekend.
Many Irish followers had been crying out for Ryan to accompany Paul O’Connell in the second row this year, but he had to make do with a part time role off the bench, as Donncha O’Callaghan kept his place. Ryan took his chance against Scotland extremely well, and was named Man of the Match, which will feed the belief of those fans who say this could be O’Callaghan’s last start. Against Parling, who has taken to international rugby like a duck to water, and Botha, Ryan has another stiff challenge, but his all-round game, allied to his current confidence, means he is a match for most at the moment. He will need to time his line-out leaping to allow the back row to peel round and put direct pressure on Farrell in defence.
Two form sides, one far more established that the other. England have come on leaps and bounds so far this tournament but Ireland in truth have been inches away from playing for a Grand Slam this weekend. Tricky. Ireland by 3. BC
This truly is a difficult one to call. Tempting as it is to risk the splinters and sit on the fence by going for a draw, I will plump for the side that I think is moving more quickly in the right direction, who is at home and who will be slightly fresher given that Ireland will have played 3 games in 14 days. England by 4. MB
by Ben Coles & Mark Bonsall