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Preview: England v Ireland

16th March 2012 05:51

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Stuart Lancaster camera shot

Stuart Lancaster: Last game?

One gets the sneaking feeling there might be a touch of needle between England and Ireland in their big Six Nations Championship showdown at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday.

The build-up to this fixture has seen the English called 'bad losers' by Ireland blindside flanker Stephen Ferris before full-back Rob Kearney added his own, shall we say, honest feelings toward their hosts that in all probability will help interim head coach Stuart Lancaster with what might be his last pre-match team-talk at HQ.

Whether the Rugby Football Union stick with seemingly the player's favourite and decide to keep Lancaster in the hot-seat alongside Graham Rowntree and a coach probably set to be named later remains to be seen, but what cannot be undersold is the efforts the Yorkshireman has put in over these past couple of months. Andy Farrell is unlikely to stay in his role after Saracens put a kibosh on such a move while Farrell has said that he wants to develop further at club level for now.

Those of you wondering where Nick Mallett is while this is going on will find the former Italy coach doing in-studio work in South Africa. Mallett last week gave off an air of someone who respects what Lancaster has achieved in such a short space of time, alongside being perplexed as to France coach Phillipe Saint-Andre's decision to go for hooker Dimitri Szarzewski, prop Jean-Baptiste Poux, scrum-half Julien Dupuy and fly-half Lionel Beauxis ahead of William Servat, Vincent Debaty, Morgan Parra and Francois Trinh-Duc against England. We can't help but be with Mallett on this.

Onto the game at hand though and this clash is set to be a fantastic 80 minutes as history between these two sides offers plenty of spice. From 2004, Ireland are up on England by seven wins to two in an impressive statistic for the green visitors. Despite such a dominant record of putting one over their rivals, Declan Kidney goes into this one again without Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell. Perhaps that point is doing a disservice to Keith Earls and Donnacha Ryan, who have performed admirably in the veteran pair's Six Nations absence.

Without those two, the leadership responsibilities have gone to Rory Best, while Jonathan Sexton is taking on a more senior role. Alongside Ryan in the second-row remains Donncha O'Callaghan, who on Thursday also added fuel to the fire before kick-off.

"England shirts are a red rag to the Irish. When we play England in anything, we want to do well and perform," said the lock, before revealing their 20-9 defeat to the English in their 2011 Rugby World Cup warm-up was down to not approaching the game correctly.

"It's disappointing to say it but we played a friendly that day and they played a Test match. We were caught short because of that," explained Munster second-row O'Callaghan.

Judging from such pre-game feelings filtering from the Irish camp, there will be nothing friendly about what is coming at Twickenham. Forget red rags, there could be red cards in this one as England quietly go about their work, looking to do their talking on the field.

Ones to watch:

For England: Paris saw Ben Morgan in full swing last weekend and such was his form that we were surprised to see him replaced by Phil Dowson so early. But credit to Dowson as he saved a try - taking a knee to the head and Tom Croft's boot to the face for his troubles - against France and will always serve Stuart Lancaster well as a replacement. But returning to Morgan, who stunned France somewhat with his pace and power busting holes in the home midfield. Another player to keep an eye on will be new father Ben Foden.

For Ireland: He has amassed some serious air miles this Six Nations and, in our eyes, Rob Kearney is ahead of Ben Foden and Leigh Halfpenny in the current pecking order before next year's British & Irish Lions tour. Kearney looks back to his 2009 best when he had South Africa struggling to get to grips with the number 15 wearing red and if he can maintain his solidity while offer an attacking option, then England may find little joy in their kicking tactics. Meanwhile, lock Donnacha Ryan has a lot to live up to after last week's top effort.

Head-to-head: Two of the best blindsides in world rugby meet on Saturday as Tom Croft clashes with Stephen Ferris. Flanks with differing strengths, the duo should put on quite at show and it will be interesting to see whether the Ulster star can knock the Leicester line-out king off his game with one of those wincing tackles. This battle will be a real thriller.

Recent results:

2011: England won 20-9 at Aviva Stadium
2011: Ireland won 24-8 at Aviva Stadium
2010: Ireland won 20-16 at Twickenham
2009: Ireland won 14-13 at Croke Park
2008: England won 33-10 at Twickenham
2007: Ireland won 43-13 at Croke Park
2006: Ireland won 28-24 at Twickenham
2005: Ireland won 19-13 at Lansdowne Road
2004: Ireland won 19-13 at Twickenham
2003: England won 42-6 at Lansdowne Road
2002: England won 45-11 at Twickenham
2001: Ireland won 20-14 at Lansdowne Road
2000: England won 50-18 at Twickenham

Prediction: The trend suggests that England are getting better and better throughout this Six Nations Championship so we are going for the hosts to end on a high. England by 8!

Rugby Union betting odds

The teams:

England: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Manusamoa Tuilagi, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Chris Robshaw (capt), 6 Tom Croft, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Mouritz Botha, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Alex Corbisiero.
Replacements: 16 Lee Mears, 17 Matt Stevens, 18 Tom Palmer, 19 Phil Dowson, 20 Ben Youngs, 21 Charlie Hodgson, 22 Mike Brown.

Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Tom Court, 18 Mike McCarthy, 19 Peter O'Mahony, 20 Tomas O'Leary, 21 Ronan O'Gara, 22 Fergus McFadden.

Date: Saturday, March 17
Kick-off: 17:00
Venue: Twickenham
Referee: Nigel Owens
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garces, Neil Paterson
Television match official: Jim Yuille

By Adam Kyriacou - Twitter: PlanetRugbyAK

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PosTeamPPts
1Ireland58
2England58
3Wales56
4France56
5Scotland52
6Italy50