Burning Issue: Will Ireland beat England on Sunday?
This weekend will be dominated by the huge game at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday, so the JOE office has a look at who they think will win.
Declan Whooley says... Sunday will arguably be the biggest game of the Six Nations tournament. Overcome a strong English challenge and our momentum will be incredibly different to stop. Fail to do so and our win in Cardiff will be somewhat diluted. On the evidence so far, England have greater reason to be fearful.
After the thrilling win in Cardiff on Saturday, expectation has been heightened, though some of the optimism has perhaps been a little overboard. It wasn’t exactly a shock to beat Wales on their own patch – because of our recent form, their recent form and our overall record there – and it was always felt that the two biggest challenges would be our two home fixtures.
Perhaps it was the nature of the win, from a master class in the first half of offensive play and execution of a game plan – not to mention some Zebo magic – to the defensive efforts of the second half when down to 14 men for 20 minutes.
Some critics have stated that this is a cause for worry, but the strength of the defence in light of a Welsh onslaught was perhaps as impressive as the first half-efforts. This was after wave upon wave of attack from their physical pack and monstrous wings, which will stand our team in good stead for the weekend. Though as we showed in 2011, a strong start is half the battle.
While the bookies have both teams at the same price, home advantage cannot be underestimated. It is ten years since an England side left these shores with a win and that was a team that was to go on and win the World Cup. Yes Stuart Lancaster has made this side far more competitive than it was in the recent past, but they are well short of that brilliant side. Not even a win over an out-of-sorts All Blacks side can mask that.
This is a different English side in many ways from their last trip to Dublin, a game they lost 24-8 on a very humbling night for everyone connected to the RFU when their Grand Slam hopes went up in smoke. They have different management, different players – only four players that started that night took to the field against Scotland at Twickenham – and there is most certainly a new attitude. But that does not mask the reality that they are beatable. Eminently beatable.
Their pack is the cornerstone of the team. We need no reminders of what happened when Mike Ross departed the scene in the same fixture last year, but if he stays fit, our front row is more than a match. Tom Youngs can’t match Rory Best in the number two jersey, while Dan Cole is nowhere near as dynamic as Cian Healy in the loose.
Their second-row has begun the campaign well and Chris Robshaw in particular looks to be thriving in the captaincy role. But again, player for player, not many would make it ahead of his counterpart in green.
The return of Manu Tuilagi will make a big difference, but this isn’t a challenge we haven’t faced already. He is the same weight as Jamie Roberts, while George North is just three pounds lighter than the Leicester centre and we coped more than adequately with those two on Saturday.
Owen Farrell does offer creativity from number 10 and has rightly received plaudits for his fine performance against Scotland, coming on the back of a strong season with Saracens.
However, at this level he is still a novice and his last trip to Ireland was one he may wish to forget. His goal-kicking at Thomond Park in a pressure-cooker environment was well-off and he struggled for any composure throughout. He’s not the first English player to crumble in recent seasons and that may well play on his mind.
Ill discipline has cost England in the past
The game should be every bit as physical as the last, but when it comes down to it, we have a better team, and squad, player for player than our great rivals. All we need to do is transfer this onto the pitch in a similar manner to our Cardiff performance and we will be facing the Scots brimming with confidence.
A close battle is expected, but Ireland should prevail and talk of a Grand Slam could well go into overdrive.
Adrian Collins says... As much as it's painful to say, England will probably have a comfortable victory against Ireland in this game.
Bolstered by the return of Manu Tuilagi, England will be an even stronger outfit than they were in their 38-18 win over Scotland.
The problem for them is not who can they plug in to fill a gap, but rather who will they be forced to leave out? Billy Twelvetrees got off to a very impressive start in their opening game and merits a place in the starting line up, while Tuilagi has already proven himself in an England shirt.
Stuart Lancaster has a tough selection decision to make, but there is the possibility that both could start against Ireland, which would be a real problem.
Ireland, on the other hand, started brilliantly against Wales, and then completely took their foot off the gas. While it is to be expected that Wales needed to make a comeback to save some pride, the way that Ireland played in the second half offensively is a real worry, and the sheer amount of time on the ball Wales had would give England more than enough leeway to score several tries.
Wales looked to be trying to score almost by brute force alone, while England have both force and creativity, as well as a fly-half in scintillating form in Owen Farrell, meaning any penalties will be punished.
Rory Best saved at least two try scoring opportunities that he won't be able to repeat this weekend if Tuilagi is half as impressive as he was against the All Blacks just a few short months ago.
They won against the All Blacks in some style, with Tuilagi playing a huge part as he was involved in pretty much every try. Here's a reminder of that (not that we need to be reminded of it, mind)
Ireland, on the other hand, have injury worries rather than selection problems, with both Gordon D'Arcy and Keith Earls still looking to recover form knocks they sustained against Wales, which would be two huge losses.
Apart from that, the second half of the game against Wales was physically and mentally exhausting, and with such a short turnaround, you would expect the effects of such a mammoth effort to show through in this game. Sean O'Brien got through 23 tackles, which is frankly insane and Cian Healy was not far behind with an equally ridiculous 21; a work rate like that is simply not sustainable across two games at the highest level.
It should not be forgotten either that Wales were in poor form heading into last week's game, having lost eight on the trot, while England are most definitely not lacking form or confidence. Wales started nervously, were hesitant, and were punished, England will start at a blistering pace.
If Ireland give them near as much possession as they gave Wales in the second half, this one will be over within the first 40 minutes.
As a closing point, if this is what Tuilagi does to his own international team mates, we imagine he's less nice to his opponents.
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