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Preview: Ireland v England

18th March 2011 09:56

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Matt Banahan catching training for England

Centre stage: Matt Banahan

And so it comes down to 80 minutes. England return to where they last sealed a Grand Slam for what could become a trophy-filled day in Dublin.

There is more than a sense of déjà vu emanating from that 42-6 win at the old Lansdowne Road, with five faces remaining from that epic fixture. England's sole survivor is Steve Thompson while Brian O'Driscoll, Peter Stringer, Paul O'Connell and Ronan O'Gara are still haunted by 2003.

Martin Johnson was in attendance too and it would have been a brave man to rule out the then skipper not to end up coaching his nation. His interview response on that victorious day went a little something like this: "We have had our disappointments over the years. It's a credit to our players and coaches. But we finally got it."

In many ways that summation lends itself to the team of today, which has gone through a similarly tough ordeal, having toiled away to get where they wanted to be in a Rugby World Cup year.

But finally there is now an air of accomplishment and structure that sees them prepare for the looming trip to New Zealand as the North's best hope.

So where abouts are their opponents in terms of challenging come September/October? On paper they do possess a line-up with potential, but as their supporters put up with year upon year, their game is often found wanting at crucial times. 2011 is no different and there are some fans even wanting coach Declan Kidney out of the top job.

But how those negative feelings would all change if Kidney could rustle up a victory that would - if Wales do not run up a cricket score in France - flatten the chilling English champers. It would also be extra reason for some St Patrick's Day cheer.

Team news suggests that Ireland can ruin the day and it is good to see Jonathan Sexton getting another run in the 10 slot, alongside his Leinster pal Eoin Reddan, who in all honesty should probably not be playing after last week's head knock.

Luke Fitzgerald meanwhile has been left out of the 22 altogether so there is a shift in the backline where Keith Earls moves to full-back and Andrew Trimble dons 11. This decision should help their cause in my opinion as Ulster winger Trimble is a better choice to deal with the threat of leading championship finisher Chris Ashton.

Containing Ashton and Ben Foden will be a large chunk of the battle for Ireland but without captain Mike Tindall, England now have another running threat out wide in the shape of Matt Banahan. Victory for Johnson and the Red Rose's first slam for eight years? It really is too difficult to call at Aviva Stadium, as the forthcoming prediction will prove.

Ones to watch:

For Ireland: A few names came to mind to go under this spotlight with Keith Earls moving to full-back and Andrew Trimble given a run on the wing. Jonathan Sexton gets the full glare though as his return in favour of Ronan O'Gara could make or break Ireland's hopes. O'Gara will be called from the replacements bench as soon as Declan Kidney suspects things are not going in the right direction so with the pressure on, can he perform in the 10 slot?

For England: The visitors go into this one without their captain so a lot will rest on the shoulders of new leader Nick Easter. However, Mike Tindall's outside centre replacement is the man who we have gone for as it will be something of a baptism of fire for the relatively inexperienced midfield man. And could things get much tougher than going up against Brian O'Driscoll at the home of Irish rugby? A massive day for Matt Banahan.

Head-to-head: If the British & Irish Lions squad to tour to Australia was being picked tomorrow, there is little doubt that Ireland eight Jamie Heaslip and Nick Easter would get the nod. Their grapple will be critical on Saturday, yet they will both hope that respective carrying sidekicks Sean O'Brien and James Haskell add their bulk to proceedings. Thus, the quickest ball for messieurs Reddan and Youngs could well decide the result.

Recent results:

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: Yes, I'm on the fence with a long shot. A draw!

The teams:

Ireland: 15 Keith Earls 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (capt), 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 David Wallace, 6 Sean O'Brien, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Tom Court, 18 Leo Cullen, 19 Denis Leamy, 20 Peter Stringer, 21 Ronan O'Gara, 22 Paddy Wallace.

England: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Matt Banahan, 12 Shontayne Hape, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nick Easter, 7 James Haskell, 6 Tom Wood, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Alex Corbisiero.
Replacements: 16 Steve Thompson, 17 Paul Doran-Jones, 18 Simon Shaw, 19 Tom Croft, 20 Danny Care, 21 Jonny Wilkinson, 22 David Strettle.

Date: Saturday, March 19
Kick-off: 17:00
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Tim Hayes (Wales)
Television match official: Giulio De Santis (Italy)

By Adam Kyriacou

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1Ireland58
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