Where to start? There is so much riding on this game for England after all the criticism they have faced, but Ireland will be under pressure as well after their defeat in Paris. Which way will it go?
To what extent was England’s labouring peformance in Rome dictated by the tactics of their opposition? Did they really get ‘sucked in’ to the kicking gameplan, or was that their intent all along? Will they play a more expansive game against a side that will play with width themselves?
So many questions, and another prediction article filled with ‘ifs’. For me, the front five battle will be very important on Saturday – England have had injury problems, whilst Ireland have struggled in this department and will miss Jerry Flannery. So, if England can exert pressure on their lineout as they did against Wales, they should enjoy some reasonable possession.
If England’s forwards hit some rucks with a bit of intent, rather than flopping weakly over the ball, at least some of that possession should be relatively quick, and that will enable Jonny Wilkinson to stand flat and send Riki Flutey and Mathew Tait into space. Easy game, rugby.
James Haskell, Lewis Moody and Nick Easter will need to perform as we know they can, competing relentlessly at the breakdown and frustrating the opposition. With turnover ball, England have the potential to be dangerous, and if they look to run with the ball, they ought to create some chances.
Unfortunately, I can’t really see it happening. There has been so little evidence of an England gameplan, and despite the fans’ propensity to look on the bright side and latch on to any glimmer of hope, for several years, England have been pretty dire.
We ought to remember that Ireland were unbeaten throughout 2009, and their run only ended against a clinical French side in Paris. The men in green have certainly not become a bad side overnight, and a glance down the teamsheet reveals so many players with so much talent: O’Connell, Wallace, Heaslip, O’Driscoll and Bowe to name just a third of the side.
The selection of Jonny Sexton says a lot about the ambitions of each side. Declan Kidney is clearly opting for a more attacking style, choosing the promising young fly-half over the steady and experienced O’Gara. How many times have we seen Martin Johnson favouring steadiness and experience over youth and promise?
Everything is telling me to pick Ireland – my head is screaming, ‘look at the evidence’. However, my heart is speaking more loudly. How good would it be if England pulled off a victory? Then the Grand Slam really could be on!
So, my SportGuru prediction is England by 4.
Let me know what you think!