Ireland v England: Key head to head battles

John O’Sullivan looks at three of the key battles that’ll decide this Six Nations clash

Johnny Sexton and George Ford will both play a key role for their teams on Saturday. File photograph: Getty Images

Johnny Sexton and George Ford will both play a key role for their teams on Saturday. File photograph: Getty Images

 

Sexton v Ford

Johnny Sexton
Club:
Leinster
Position: Outhalf
Age: 35
Height: 1.88m (6’2”)
Weight: 90kg (14st 2lbs)
Ireland caps: 98
Points: 903
Why’s he so important? Quite apart from his leadership and place-kicking skills he remains the fulcrum around which Ireland’s attacking game is built, something that needs to change a little bit if the team wants to evolve or be less reliant on one player from a creative perspective. Having said that his game management will be crucial to Ireland’s chances but hopefully others will pitch in when it comes to good decisions and distribution particularly in the wider channels. When the team plays well he is invariably the one driving that collective.

Trivia: He is just eight points behind Australia’s Michael Lynagh (911), not including those he scored for the Lions, in the global all-time points’ scoring list.

George Ford
Club:
Leicester Tigers
Position: Outhalf
Age: 28
Height: 1.78m (5’10”)
Weight: 90kg (13st 7lbs)
England caps: 76
Points: 308
Why’s it so important? In the victory over France he periodically slipped away from the orthodox outhalf role popping up as the second playmaker. Several of England’s most cohesive moments in attack involved scrumhalf Ben Youngs looping around Owen Farrell and either taking on a gap or linking with his outside backs. Ford’s vision and range of passing/kicking is more difficult to contain the further away the set piece or breakdown. He often drops into the backfield when England are defending, as a kicking option and to protect him from the front-line collisions. Six of England’s tries in the last three matches against Ireland have come from kicks into the backfield.

Trivia: Teammate Jonny May had this to say about Ford: “George understands the game as well as any coach. He is a natural ball player and making us tick at the moment.”

Henshaw v Daly

Robbie Henshaw
Club:
Leinster
Position: Centre
Age: 27
Height: 1.93 (6’4”)
Weight: 99kgs (15st 7lbs)
Ireland caps: 51
Points: 40

Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw is having an excellent Six Nations. Photograph: Getty Images
Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw is having an excellent Six Nations. Photograph: Getty Images


Why is he so important? He’s been outstanding in Ireland’s Six Nations campaign playing at inside centre and is now charged with a different if not unfamiliar role that will place a huge premium on his ability to read the game from a defensive perspective. In attack there should be a little less traffic further out and that will suit his footwork and power if he’s given a decent platform. He’s got a good kicking and passing game and hopefully that will facilitate the Irish back three attacking with more ball in hand.

Trivia: Two of his eight tries in international rugby have come against England, the first in 2015 and last year’s Six Nations when he played outside centre.

Elliot Daly
Club:
Saracens
Position: Centre
Age: 28
Height: 1.84m (6’)
Weight: 98kg (15st 5lbs)
England caps: 51
Points: 109
Why is he so important? When he first broke into senior rugby with Wasps it was as an outside centre and former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll singled him out as a fine prospect in that role at the time, yet today will only be his fifth cap in the centre; the rest have been at wing or more prominently fullback. He is an excellent footballer, a prodigious left-footed kicking option, quick and a fine broken field runner. He beat five defenders in his short cameo as a replacement against France.

Trivia: Ireland’s nemesis from a try scoring perspective, crossing for five in seven Test matches in an overall tally of 17.

Herring v Cowan-Dickie

Rob Herring
Club:
Ulster
Position: Hooker
Age: 30
Height: 1.85m (6’1”)
Weight: 106kgs (16st 7lbs)
Ireland caps: 20
Points: 5
Why is he so important? Ireland’s lineout has been excellent under the coaching baton of Paul O’Connell and the Ulster hooker has been an integral part of that process. His work-rate around the pitch is first class. Against Scotland he excelled at the breakdown both in terms of clearing out (nine, joint top), his speed to rucks and tackle count. There are trace elements of his origins as a backrow in general play. If the Irish lineout functions smoothly, it will allow him to settle into the other tasks on his ‘to-do’ list.

Rob Herring’s work-rate around the pitch is first class. Photograph: Getty Images
Rob Herring’s work-rate around the pitch is first class. Photograph: Getty Images

Trivia: He had to wait three years for his second cap having made his debut against Argentina in 2014 but marked the occasion with his one, and as yet only try for Ireland against South Africa in 2017.

Luke Cowan-Dickie
Club
: Exeter Chiefs
Position: Hooker
Age: 27
Height: 1.85m (6’)
Weight: 112kg (17st 9lbs)
England caps: 30
Points: 35
Why is he so important? More explosive around the pitch than Jamie George he was rewarded with a rare start against France and justified Eddie Jones faith with a typically powerful and all-action performance. He occasionally rides shotgun for George Ford in the defensive line from set piece. His lineout throwing is likely to receive a stern examination but as he has demonstrated largely in Exeter colours it’s a facet of the game with which he is comfortable.

Trivia: Prior to today’s game at the Aviva stadium he had won five of his 30 caps for England as the starting hooker.

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