Ireland v England: Five storylines to follow ahead of the Rugby World Cup warm-up including George Ford’s chance to shine

David Skippers
Ireland v England Five Storylines feature RWC warm-ups 2023.jpg

Ireland number eight Cian Prendergast and England fly-half George Ford.

Ahead of the Rugby World Cup warm-up clash between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday, here’s our five storylines heading into the meeting.

Ireland set to continue their dominance

After their excellent Six Nations campaign in which they clinched a Grand Slam with a deserved 29-16 victory over England in Dublin, Ireland will be the hot favourites to repeat that result this weekend.

Their outstanding Six Nations form has elevated Andy Farrell’s side to the number one spot in World Rugby’s official rankings, and with this fixture set to take place in their backyard at the Aviva Stadium, they will be quietly confident of continuing their impressive form of late against the Red Rose.

Ireland have won the last three matches between these teams, with two of those triumphs secured on their home turf, with England’s last win in Dublin registered back in 2019.

Adding to that, Farrell has selected close to his strongest starting line-up, which sets them up nicely for this fixture.

Owen Farrell saga looms large in the background

Although he will not be in action against the Irish on Saturday, England captain and fly-half, Owen Farrell has dominated the headlines in the build-up to this fixture after his dangerous challenge on Wales back-row Taine Basham in last weekend’s Rugby World Cup warm-up at Twickenham.

He initially received a yellow card which was later upgraded to a red card after a decision from the bunker which deemed the tackle to be of a high level of danger with no mitigation. From there, Farrell faced a disciplinary hearing and due to his previous transgressions of a similar nature, it was felt that he was unlikely to get any sort of mitigation and was set to miss at least England’s World Cup opener against Argentina on September.

However, the independent panel came to the conclusion that it was not a red card and downgraded it back to a yellow which led to a huge outcry from rugby enthusiasts, and World Rugby has subsequently decided to appeal that verdict. Although he will not be in action this weekend, it’s fair to say the England skipper and his World Cup fate will still be in the news after the game.

George Ford gets his chance to shine

England head coach Steve Borthwick has revealed that he intended to name Farrell in his starting line-up for this encounter but with so much controversy surrounding his rescinded red card, the Red Rose captain will be visiting the Aviva Stadium as a spectator.

That means Sale Sharks fly-half George Ford gets his first chance to call the shots as England’s chief playmaker in the run-on side during the Rugby World Cup warm-up fixtures, after he made cameos off the replacements bench during the latter part of the two matches against Wales in Cardiff and at Twickenham.

Although he had little to crow about in the first encounter, which Wales won 20-9, the 30-year-old hit the ground running when he came on at Twickenham and played a leading role as England clinched a come-from-behind 19-17 victory.

On Saturday, he gets a chance from the outset against the world’s number-one ranked team, and if he continues where he left off last weekend, he will give Borthwick plenty to think about when he selects his team for their World Cup opener against Argentina.

Crunch midfield battle set to take centre stage

Although there are plenty of exciting battles set to take place across the park, the battle between these team’s centre combinations is a highly anticipated one, and whichever duo comes out on top in this duel should also finish on the winning side.

For England, all eyes will be on Manu Tuilagi, who makes his first appearance since Borthwick announced his 33-man squad for the World Cup, and his direct battle with Ireland counterpart Bundee Aki could be a case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object when they collide.

Both are excellent ball carriers who will stop at nothing to give their respective teams much-needed momentum on attack. Meanwhile, Joe Marchant joins Tuilagi in the centres for England, while Garry Ringrose is Aki’s midfield partner.

Both Marchant and Ringrose run excellent lines and will complement the more direct style of play of their partners, which means the midfield duel should play a big part in the grander scheme of things.

Plenty at stake for Ireland’s players

With Ireland’s 33-man squad for the Rugby World Cup in France set to be announced next week, this will be the last chance saloon for numerous players who will be in action against England this weekend.

Although Farrell has named a strong matchday squad with plenty of experience, there are several players who will be aiming to impress head coach Farrell and his selectors.

In the run-on side, the inclusion of Cian Prendergast at number eight was a surprising one, as he is set to make his first start at Test level.

The 23-year-old has only represented his country on two previous occasions, and now teams up with experienced campaigners in Josh van der Flier and Peter O’Mahony. If the youngster delivers the goods at the base of the scrum, it should be enough to secure his place in Ireland’s World Cup squad.

Elsewhere, replacement backs Jack Crowley and Keith Earls will also be hoping for some game-time as they also hope to book their spots on the flight to France, with veteran outside back Earls set to make his 100 appearance for his country if he comes off the bench.

READ MORE: Ireland v England preview: Andy Farrell’s men to show World Cup credentials with dominant victory over the Red Rose