When is it, where is it on, who else is playing this weekend?
Ireland will play England at 5pm at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, March 18th. It is one of three matches that day, beginning with Scotland against Italy at Murrayfield at 12.30pm and France against Wales at the Stade de France at 2.45pm.
How can I watch it?
The game is on free to air on Virgin Media One in Ireland. You can also watch the game on UTV. If you can’t be by a TV or want additional coverage, check out our live blogs on Irish Times Sport.
What is the state of play in the table and permutations?
Ireland could have clinched the championship with a bonus-point win over Scotland if France had failed to get a bonus point against England. Instead, France gave England a record thrashing, and closed the gap on points difference, as Ireland failed to get a bonus point against Scotland.
France are 20 points behind on points differential and will have played Wales by the time Ireland kick off against England.
Should France win by less than 13 points against Wales, or fail to get a four-try bonus point, a losing bonus point will win the championship for Ireland. Should France by 20 or more points against Wales, with a bonus point, then Ireland must either draw the game or beat England. Beating England will ensure the championship, the Triple Crown and the coveted Grand Slam, go to the home team at the Aviva.
Andy Farrell’s men are looking to become just the fourth Irish team to win the Grand Slam, and the first since 2018.
What happened in this fixture last year?
Ireland beat England at Twickenham by scoreline of 15-32, securing a bonus point. Lowe, Bealham, Keenan and Conan got over the line, while England were try-less, scoring only through Marcus Smith penalties. Former England manager Eddie Jones called out World Rugby after the defeat, but as John O’Sullivan wrote “Charlie Ewels delivered what in essence was a flying head butt to the face of James Ryan and deserved to be sent off”. Ireland then beat Scotland to secure the Triple Crown the following weekend, but their shot at the title was in vain as France won the Grand Slam by beating England.
What sort of threat will England pose to Ireland?
Not half as much as they usually might, one would dare to say, after their thrashing by France and their earlier loss to Scotland. England look a shell of the team they once were, but given their proud history, they will be fighting for a lot of pride against Ireland. Robert Kitson writes of England’s problems: “English rugby in barely better shape these days than the beleaguered game in Wales. Without reform of the union’s priorities and structures, at least another decade in the wilderness awaits.”
Andy Farrell is staying guarded against England’s response.
“They will certainly be hurting and, I mean, it’s a perfect opportunity to come and spoil the party,” said Farrell, with whom he previously worked as an assistant coach.
“That’s the reality. So that will be a massive motivation for them. Is that bigger motivation than what we’re gonna experience playing at home for a Grand Slam game on St Patrick’s weekend? We’ll see.”
Johnny Sexton’s final Six Nations game
Any score in Saturday’s game will see Ireland’s captain Johnny Sexton have the chance to break Ronan O’Gara’s all-time points tally in the Six Nations of 557 points.
Captaining Ireland to a Grand Slam coronation in Dublin would be “the stuff of dreams,” Sexton said. “What you grow up wanting to do. I don’t know why you grow up wanting to be the captain of Ireland, maybe because the players you admire the most were captains, but to do it would be dreams-come-true stuff.”
Gerry Thornley writes of Sexton: “Given Sexton has been such a good ambassador for the Irish team and Irish rugby, it’s always seemed slightly curious when even some home fans among Leinster’s provincial rivals like to make him the pantomime villain, and the loud booing when Sexton’s face appeared on screen from the stands during the France-Ireland game a year ago certainly portrayed them as a pantomime crowd of Shakespearean proportions.
“Of course, as much as anything, it’s a backhanded compliment, not least given the memory of Le Drop which sealed the opening leg of Ireland’s 2018 Grand Slam.
“Few players could have carried themselves as well as Sexton did. He will be a tough act to follow, in more ways that we can perhaps even envisage.”
Despite losing five players through injury in last week’s 22-7 win over Scotland, Irish head coach Andy Farrell has been able to name a strong team for Saturday’s game.
As expected, there are just three changes to the starting line-up, with Ryan Baird and Robbie Henshaw coming in for the unlucky duo of Iain Henderson and Garry Ringrose, while Jamison Gibson-Park has been named as the starting scrumhalf, with Conor Murray switching to the bench.
Henshaw will be making his first start of any kind since the Autumn Series game against Fiji, when forced off with a hamstring strain inside five minutes, with last week’s 14-minute appearance off the bench his first outing since then. Gibson-Park was making his first appearance of this year’s Six Nations as a replacement last Sunday but looked as sharp as ever.
While Henshaw especially and Gibson-Park have vast big-game experience, Baird’s promotion for just his third Test start makes this the biggest game of the 23-year-old’s career thus far.
For England, Steve Borthwick has made one of two enforced changes at inside-centre where Manu Tuilagi replaces the injured Ollie Lawrence. Tuilagi makes his first appearance of the Six Nations having initially been frozen out by Borthwick and then receiving a three-match ban for dangerous play on club duty for Sale. The powerful 31-year-old forms a midfield trio alongside Farrell and Henry Slade that was last seen during the 2019 World Cup.
Henry Arundell will start for the first time for England. The 20-year-old, who has won all six of his previous caps off the bench, has replaced Max Malins on the left wing.
Owen Farrell is restored at outhalf after being dropped for the 53-10 defeat by France last Saturday, with Marcus Smith demoted to the bench.
The second row Ollie Chessum sustained an ankle injury in training on Tuesday so David Ribbans is drafted into the starting XV in the only adjustment to the pack mauled by France.
Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan; 14 Mack Hansen, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe; 10 Johnny Sexton (capt), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park; 1 Andrew Porter, 2 Dan Sheehan, 3 Tadhg Furlong; 4 Ryan Baird, 5 James Ryan; 6 Peter O’Mahony, 7 Josh van der Flier, 8 Caelan Doris. Replacements: Rob Herring, Cian Healy, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Ross Byrne, Jimmy O’Brien.
England: 15 Freddie Steward; 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Henry Arundell; 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Jack van Poortvliet; 1 Ellis Genge, 2 Jamie George, 3 Kyle Sinckler; 4 Maro Itoje, 5 David Ribbans; 6 Lewis Ludlam, 7 Jack Willis, 8 Alex Dombrandt. Replacements: Jack Walker, Mako Vunipola, Dan Cole, Nick Isiekwe, Ben Curry, Alex Mitchell, Marcus Smith, Joe Marchant.