Having both picked up victories in Round One, the clash between Ireland and England is being viewed as a premature title decider.
Having both picked up victories in Round One, the clash between Ireland and England is being viewed as a premature Six Nations title decider.
Addressing Sunday's match in Dublin as a sign for who will take him the trophy next month is a tad pre-emptive, yet England and Ireland both did enough on the opening weekend to suggest they possess championship material.
Starting with Ireland, we will be lucky if we witness as dominant an opening quarter such as the one Declan Kidney's side produced against Wales in Cardiff, from any team again in this Six Nations. Ireland were as brilliant as Wales were awful – with better execution, planning and power at the breakdown, not to mention a moment of magic from Brian O'Driscoll to add to his already vast collection.
That clinical edge that Ireland showed in Cardiff has only been witnessed in flashes over previous years – the win over Australia at the Rugby World Cup, last November against Argentina – since Ireland captured the Grand Slam in 2009.
Their second half however was a different matter. Ireland's well of possession dried up following O'Driscoll's try, forcing them into a defensive workout that by the end left their tackle count at 200 – with Cian Healy and Mike McCarthy making 21 and 20 respectively – along with the concession of three tries.
Arguably the contest was already over at 3-30, but Ireland's defensive lapses at one stage let concern grow as to whether they could hold on. In many ways it was a timely reminder that Ireland are far from perfect – enough to keep them humble and realistic before facing the “arrogant” English on Sunday.
Except England are not so arrogant anymore. Saturday's victory over Scotland was convincing and yet the immediate statement from Stuart Lancaster was that England could do better.
He is not wrong – four tries, a scrum and lineout with success rates over 83% and an impressive number of completed passes (221) are all positive signs – but more points were left out on the field.
Debate has been fierce in the build-up to Sunday's fixture about who should make up England's centre pairing and whilst a combination of Billy Twelvetrees and Manu Tuilagi may represent the future, the threat posed by Ireland in midfield is enough to make Lancaster think again and keep Brad Barritt.
The possibility of a Grand Slam in 2013 appears minimal given the proximity of the competition, but by the end of Sunday one more candidate will be snuffed out. We are set for a thriller.
Ones to watch:
For Ireland: The fact that Brian O'Driscoll still holds so much sway and influence aged 34 and after 127 caps is a testament to his talent. O'Driscoll offered a reminder of this against Wales and will be closely marked by England this weekend. His speed has gradually been replaced by power around the fringes – a test for any tired tacklers late in the game. Elsewhere, Donnacha Ryan will be charged with attempting to disrupt England's efficient lineout and prevent an easy platform for Ben Youngs and Owen Farrell.
For England Previous trips to Dublin have shown that if points are on offer, England cannot afford to let them slip. That focuses attention on Owen Farrell – the Saracens fly-half whose kicking form of late has been exceptional. Still only 20, Sunday is another test of Farrell's maturity and composure, although so far he has answered all the questions thrown at him. His midfield partner Billy Twelvetrees will also be under similar scrutiny after a promising debut, because he offers qualities at inside centre that England have lacked for some time – a markedly different player from when England last played a Six Nations match in Dublin and employed the battering ram that is Matt Banahan.
Head-to-head: A positive start for Jamie Heaslip to open his account as Ireland's permanent captain will have no doubt settled some nerves and silenced some doubters. Against England however, Heaslip will need to bring and give everything he has. His opposite man will be someone to whom the number eight shirt is fairly unfamiliar, Tom Wood. In outstanding form since his return from injury at the beginning of the season, Wood was one of England's top performers against New Zealand and Scotland. Despite few starts at number eight, Wood has the power and ability to handle the positional switch.
2012: England won 30-9 at Twickenham
2011: England won 20-9 in Dublin
2011: Ireland won 24-8 in Dublin
2010: Ireland won 20-16 at Twickenham
2009:Ireland won 14-13 in Dublin
2008: England won 33-10 at Twickenham
2007: Ireland won 43-13 in Dublin
2006: Ireland won 28-24 at Twickenham
2005: Ireland won 19-13 in Dublin
2004: Ireland won 19-13 at Twickenham
2003: England won 42-6 in Dublin
Prediction: This one is close. Ireland's home record against England – 2011's Rugby World Cup warm-up result aside – is exceptional over the last decade. The gaps between the two sides when it comes to the scrums, lineouts and breakdown are minimal, leaving it down to a missed kick from either Sexton or Farrell to separate them. Only a moment of magic will settle this and despite England's bright start under Stuart Lancaster, Ireland's home advantage could be the difference. Ireland by 5.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 4 Mike McCarthy , 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Donncha O'Callaghan, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ronan O'Gara, 23 Keith Earls.
England: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Brad Barritt, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Mike Brown, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Tom Wood, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 James Haskell, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 David Wilson, 18 Mako Vunipola, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 Thomas Waldrom, 21 Danny Care, 22 Toby Flood, 23 Manu Tuilagi.
Date: Sunday, 10 February
Venue: Aviva Stadium
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: JÃ©rÃ´me Garces (France)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Pascal Gauzere (France)
Television match official: Iain Ramage (Scotland)
by Ben Coles