We are not yet halfway through the 2020 Guinness Six Nations, yet Ireland already have silverware in their sights: win at Twickenham on Sunday and they will fly home with the Triple Crown.
That is just one of the many plotlines that makes this one of the standout matches of this year’s Championship, which is heading for a thrilling conclusion.
Secure the Triple Crown and Ireland can look ahead to March with the scent of the title in their nostrils, while England’s Championship hopes will surely be over. For them, it is another must-win match.
It is not, however, just another game for Ireland head coach Andy Farrell as he prepares to plot against his son Owen, England’s captain and inside centre.
Farrell Sr has been with Ireland for four years but this will be the first time he has faced his son since becoming head coach and, despite both sides playing down the significance, it will be a momentous day for the Farrell household.
Farrell Sr has stuck to his guns for the clash at Twickenham, with Iain Henderson’s absence due to personal reasons the one enforced change from the side which beat Wales two weeks ago.
His counterpart Eddie Jones has made four changes, including a recall for the fit-again Manu Tuilagi in the centres and veteran scrum-half Ben Youngs as England try to build on their slender 13-6 win at Scotland two weeks ago.
WHAT THEY SAID
England head coach Eddie Jones said: “We’ve had a really good training week with Thursday probably our best session of the Guinness Six Nations.
“Ireland are a very good team, extremely well-coached. They are a team we respect a lot. They will bring their usual physicality and under Andy Farrell they’ve opened up their game a little bit.
“They are a tactically smart team. [Conor] Murray and [Johnny] Sexton, who have played 170 Tests between them, at nine and 10 will manage the game well. We’ve got to make sure we match their physicality and their emotion on the weekend.
“We trained at Twickenham Stadium in front of 10,000 fans last Friday and we can’t wait to get back out there in front of 80,000 people on Sunday.”
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell said: “We had a decent performance in our last outing. It was nowhere near perfect, of course. We’ve had a few days to make sure how we get better.
“Obviously we had a fallow week (last week) and we took the lads down to Cork for a good couple of days. We’ve tried to put a few things right and hopefully we can get an improved performance off the back of that.
“It’s another big game. I suppose we’ll play this game and the next one will be big as well. That’s what Test match football is all about.
“I think I’ve spoken to Owen two or three times (this week). Sometimes it’s once a week. Sometimes it’s five times a week. Sometimes it’s ten. There’s nothing new there. Bit of FaceTime talking to my grandson, that kind of thing.”
KEY BATTLE – MANU TUILAGI V ROBBIE HENSHAW
There are mouth-watering battles all over the pitch: Itoje v Ryan in the second row, Underhill v Van der Flier at flanker, Stander v Curry at No.8 and Youngs v Murray at scrum-half.
But perhaps the most intriguing is the battle at No.13, where two players are restored to arguably their favoured positions.
Robbie Henshaw has spent much of his international career at No.12, first inside Jared Payne and then next to Garry Ringrose.
But outside centre is arguably where the Leinster powerhouse is most at home and he will get his chance to prove that against the fit-again Tuilagi.
England’s bulldozing centre has also spent a large chunk of his recent international career at No.12 but, with Henry Slade only now returning from injury and Jonathan Joseph pushed out to the wing, the No.13 jersey – in which he burst onto the scene – is free again.
Jones has opted for the dual playmaking abilities of George Ford and Farrell inside Tuilagi and, with Mako Vunipola injured, his ability to get over the gain-line and win the physical battle against Henshaw is crucial to England’s chances of success.
STATS – POWERED BY AWS
- England and Ireland have contested 20 Guinness Six Nations matchups, with England claiming victory nine times compared to Ireland’s 11 wins.
- Ireland have won on four of their ten visits to London, with their most recent outing resulting in victory after losing three in a row at Twickenham, failing to score more than 10 points in any of those defeats.
- England have scored 66.7% of their points in the final 20 minutes of Guinness Six Nations games this campaign – the highest percentage in the Championship. Ireland, meanwhile, have scored just eight points in the final 20 minutes to date, as France are the only other side to have scored their fewest amount of points in that 20-minute segment.
- Ireland have won 98.2% of their own rucks – a higher percentage than any other team in the 2020 Guinness Six Nations.
With Manu Tuilagi back for England, it would be foolhardy to not consider him for your fantasy teams.
At 14.7 stars, he’s represents reasonable value and with two playmakers inside him in Ford and Farrell, expect him to see plenty of the ball.
Elliot Daly’s return to full-back could inspire him to reach his best form and at 14.5 stars, he’s an intriguing option.
For Ireland, Johnny Sexton is the second most expensive player in the game at 18.1 stars but he’s lived up to his price tag so far, while CJ Stander at 17.2 is also worth consideration.
If you’re seeking a bargain, how about Rob Herring? Ireland’s starting hooker costs just 11.3 stars, while winger Andrew Conway is marginally more expensive at 12.4.
And for England, Jonathan Joseph out on the wing at 12.9 stars should not be sniffed at.
England: 15 Elliot Daly (Saracens), 14 Jonny May (Leicester Tigers), 13 Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers), 12 Owen Farrell (Saracens) (c), 11 Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby), 10 George Ford (Leicester Tigers), 9 Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers), 1 Joe Marler (Harlequins), 2 Jamie George (Saracens), 3 Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins), 4 Maro Itoje (Saracens), 5 George Kruis (Saracens), 6 Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), 7 Sam Underhill (Bath Rugby), 8 Tom Curry (Sale Sharks)
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs), 17 Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers), 18 Will Stuart (Bath Rugby), 19 Joe Launchbury (Wasps), 20 Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby), 21 Ben Earl (Saracens), 22 Willi Heinz (Gloucester Rugby), 23 Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs)
Ireland: 15. Jordan Larmour (Leinster), 14. Andrew Conway (Munster), 13. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster), 12. Bundee Aki (Connacht), 11. Jacob Stockdale (Ulster), 10. Jonathan Sexton (Leinster), (c), 9. Conor Murray (Munster), 1. Cian Healy (Leinster), 2. Rob Herring (Ulster), 3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster), 4. Devin Toner (Leinster), 5. James Ryan (Leinster), 6. Peter O’Mahony (Munster), 7. Josh van der Flier (Leinster), 8. CJ Stander (Munster)
Replacements: 16. Ronan Kelleher (Leinster), 17. Dave Kilcoyne (Munster), 18. Andrew Porter (Leinster), 19. Ultan Dillane (Connacht), 20. Caelan Doris (Leinster), 21. John Cooney (Ulster), 22. Ross Byrne (Leinster), 23. Keith Earls (Munster)