England v Ireland: 10 things you really should know
The ‘scummy Irish’ head to Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day bidding for the Grand Slam
Six Nations Round Five, England v Ireland, Twickenham (2.45ko)
State of play
Well then, here we are. For a year now Saturday’s clash between Ireland and England has been talked of as a likely Grand Slam decider.
And so it has transpired - however only one team are fighting for ultimate honours when the two sides meet at Twickenham.
Joe Schmidt’s Ireland are Six Nations champions a week ahead of schedule. Last weekend’s 28-8 win over Scotland the Brave at the Aviva Stadium, coupled with England’s defeat to France in Paris, has ensured a third title in five golden years.
Ireland have proved themselves to be a brutally-efficient, well-drilled and clinical machine - with the requisite silk and flair outside to complement their steel through the middle.
For England, however, panic is setting in 18 months away from the Rugby World Cup in Japan. After back-to-back Championships Eddie Jones’s side were looking like real pretenders to New Zealand’s crown.
Back-to-back defeats to Scotland and France have shattered that facade - a third loss on the spin would have deep repercussions within English rugby.
So for Ireland - the chance to secure just a third Grand Slam in their history. For England, a chance to save face, to steady the ship and try and restore the balance of power in the norhern hemisphere.
The cards are on the table, and stakes are high this St Patrick’s Day.
How to follow
You can follow the Irish Times liveblog from 1.30pm on Saturday ahead of kick-off at 2.45. The game is being televised on TV3, who are on air from 11.30am and are also showing Italy v Scotland (12.30) and Wales v France (5.0). UTV are broadcasting the Scotland and Ireland games, with BBC showing the finale in Cardiff.
John O’Sullivan reports: “Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has made one change to the Ireland side for Saturday’s Six Nations Grand Slam clash with England at Twickenham with Iain Henderson restored to the starting team in place of Devin Toner, who drops to the bench. There are no other changes to the team or in the personnel of the match-day 23 from last Scotland game.”
Ireland: R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best (capt), T Furlong; J Ryan, I Henderson; P O’Mahony, D Leavy, CJ Stander. Replacements: S Cronin, J McGrath, A Porter, D Toner, J Murphy, K Marmion, J Carbery, J Larmour.
Meanwhile, England have dropped George Ford and moved Owen Farrell to outhalf. Dylan Hartley has recovered from a tight calf to lead the team in Saturday’s final round of the Championship, but prop colleague Dan Cole has been replaced by Kyle Sinckler. Danny Care and Joe Launchbury also make way for Richard Wigglesworth and George Kruis.
Share your Grand Slam memories
England: Anthony Watson, Jonny May, Jonathan Joseph, Ben Te’o, Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth; Mako Vunipola, Dylan Hartley (c), 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
Treading in the footsteps of giants
This Irish side are bidding to emulate the classes of 1948 and 2009 and become just the third side in the nation’s history to win the Grand Slam.
Gavin Cummiskey has looked back at the class of ’09 and the paths they have taken since securing their place in the pantehon of greats back in Cardiff nine years ago.
Some of them work as farmers, some of them are still playing - one of them is a surf physio - find out what became of the likely lads HERE.
Second in the world
Last weekend’s results saw Ireland leapfrog England into second place in the World Rugby rankings behind the All Blacks. Jones’s side can wrestle that position back should they win in London on Saturday, adding another dimension to the fixture.
Both sides play the All Blacks this autumn, and both would like to lay claim to being the best side in the world after Steve Hansen’s - we should have a better idea of who the true pretenders are come 5.0pm.
He said what?
Eddie Jones has built a reputation on being no-nonsense, hard-edged and unlikely to dice his words - he’s the caricature of an Australian ‘bloke.’ He might have the very Australian penchant for calling everyone and everything ‘mate,’ but his straight-talking has been a key part of England’s revival in the wake of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
That said, the RFU suits - and probably Jones himself - would have been grimacing when footage emerged on Wednesday of the England coach giving a speech on ‘leadership’ last July for truck manufacturing company Fuso, the Japanese sister company of the England team sponsor Mitsubishi.
During his stirring oration he referred to ‘the scummy Irish’, before calling Wales a ‘little shit place’ in another affront to the Celtic brotherhood.
“We’ve played 23 Tests and we’ve only lost one Test to the scummy Irish. I’m still dirty about that game, but we’ll get that back, don’t worry. We’ve got them next year at home so don’t worry, we’ll get that back.”
Schmidt will insist this Ireland team are too cool and professional to use something like that as motivation on Saturday - particularly when it happened so long ago - but expect a bit of added clout in those first few hits.
Battle of the breakdown
A hallmark of England’s last two defeats has been how easily they have been bullied on the floor, with both Scotland and France winning the battle of the breakdown.
And in his rugby statistics column John O’Sullivan has written that dominting on the deck will be crucial to Ireland’s Grand Slam hopes: “Saturday’s game at Twickenham pits the team that has won more rucks than any other in the tournament, Ireland (557) against the side who have lost more, England (25). Eddie Jones’s English team have struggled appreciably in this area in their last two matches, both of which they lost.
“Joe Schmidt’s Ireland average roughly 142.5 rucks per match (139.5 success rate) compared to England’s numbers, 116 and 109.7, respectively. The Irish team has lost exactly half the number of rucks (nine) – these numbers include penalties conceded at the breakdown – that the English side coughed up (18) in drawing a parallel from matches against Scotland and France.”
One of the most heartening things about Ireland’s Championship victory is that it has been achieved with youth and a raft of players inexperienced in professional rugby, never mind at Test-match level.
Among Schmidt’s starlets is the prolific Jacob Stockdale, who has scored a brace of tries in each of his last three Six Nations starts against Italy, Wales and Scotland.
The Ulster winger can emulate his hero, Tommy Bowe, by winning the Grand Slam - and he has spoken about the huge impact the soon-to-be-retired Bowe has had on him.
He said: “He (Bowe) has given me a few pointers, bits of advice. To be honest, I found him most helpful leading up to this. He taught me how to play in the professional game, being there from my first year in the Academy. He’s been massively helpful.”
Not only will victory over England on Saturday secure the Ireland player’s place in rugby lore - but it will also boost their bank balances.
Gerry Thornley writes: “Although it will be the furthest thing from their minds this week as they seek only the third Grand Slam in the history of Irish rugby, the Irish squad could earn themselves an additional bonus of around €15,000 per man should they complete a fifth win from five games, on top of the bonus of up to €60,000 they’ve already accrued for winning the 2018 Six Nations.
“This would be roughly one-third of extra €1 million or so in prize money they would earn for the IRFU were the squad to complete a Grand Slam in addition to winning the title.
“The IRFU budget for a fourth-place finish, which would be worth in the region of €6million, but by dint of ensuring a first-place finish in this year’s Six Nations, the Union are already in line to receive around €4.75 million in prize money.”
Ireland’s Under-20s play England on Friday night (Sky Sports Action, 8.0) and can secure the Championship themselves, providing they beat England and Wales beat France.
Ireland women can’t finish any higher than third in the table, they take on title-chasing England at Coventry City’s Richo Arena on Friday evening (5.30, RTE).