It is was billed as the Championship decider and maybe it was, as England beat Ireland to top the Six Nations table
Ireland 6-12 England
66min (Eng) Farrell – pen
63min (Eng) Farrell – pen
55min (Ire) O’Gara – pen
45min (Ire) O’Gara – pen
29min (Eng) Farrell – pen
3min (Eng) Farrell – pen
Ireland lost Simon Zebo and Johnny Sexton to injury during the first half and trailed by six points at the break thanks to two Farrell penalties.
Ronan O’Gara started the second half well and had kicked Ireland level with twenty minutes to play. Only for Farrell to restore the English lead on 63min. Then a shocking fifteen minutes of play against 14men left England leading 12-6.
The home support looked worried as O’Gara’s kicking to touch from penalties was very poor and Ireland never looked like getting the TRY they needed. England were deserved winners
MORE TO FOLLOW
A win for either side would put them in the driving seat but both teams still have to navigate France, albeit both are at home to Les Bleus. England have the tougher finish with an away game to last years Grand Slam Champions to finish off this years campaign in Cardiff. Ireland have to travel to Edinburgh and Rome, with the home game against France sandwiched in-between.
Both teams will fancy their chances this Sunday, they both showed their intentions last weekend, with Ireland coming through a more bruising affair against Wales. Ireland will have to reproduce what they showed in Cardiff, both physically and mentally. Their work rate was off the scales and will have taken its toll and a lot depends on how the bodies have recovered. England on the other hand had a relatively easy day out, at home to Scotland. After soaking up an early Scottish effort, the English dictated the game and won comfortably.
Brian O Driscoll will again be the man that Ireland will have to look to for both inspiration and leadership. He showed it in abundance last weekend and his man of the match performance was just what the younger players needed.
Simon Zebo proved himself once again to be the flair player that we have become accustomed to with Munster. It would have been great to see Craig Gilroy in more space and maybe English attention on Zebo this week will allow the young Ulster player to shine.
Declan Kidney has been able to name an unchanged side after all injury worries were passed fit. Stuart Lancaster has been forced into one change to the team that defeated Scotland; Ben Morgan is out with an ankle injury. Tom Wood will move from blindside flanker to No.8 and James Haskell will come into the side to replace Morgan. He has resisted the temptation to start the now fit again Manu Tuilagi and instead has stuck with his centre pairing of Billy Twelvetrees and Brad Barritt.
Twelvetrees made his debut last weekend and can be quite happy with his performance; he would have been unlucky to lose his place to the returning Tuilagi this week. This gives Lancaster a major option from the bench though, Tuilagi was exceptional against the All-Blacks in the Autumn series and he showed the power and pace that Ireland may have to contend with late on.
The battle of the kickers should also be an interesting one; Johnny Sexton is playing a dictating role at number ten for both club and country. Owen Farrell is an exceptional kicker and for such a young player doesn’t seem to be fazed in the slightest by any of the challenges that have been put in front of him so far. The summer Lions number ten jersey could also be claimed on Sunday. It will also be a game where the scrum will be pivotal, Ireland won’t want reminding of St. Patrick’s Day in Twickenham last year, where their scrum was demolished by the English pack. The outcome was a 30-9 win for England.
Expect a much more even exchange between the packs on Sunday as Ireland will feel that they have a point to prove on that score. If Gilroy and Zebo can get clean, quick ball, Ireland can penetrate the English back line. Much of the attention will be focused on O Driscoll when Ireland are on the attack and last weeks game against Wales will have lifted Zebo’s profile a notch. The Irish back line is far from a two-man show though, Gilroy and Kearney are more than capable of making gains and the experience of Gordan D’arcy against the inexperienced English pair should be in Irelands favour.
With both teams looking to continue their winning starts, this game should be fast and furious, with power and passion the deciding factor. Ireland will have last year’s heavy defeat in London to draw on but they will hardly need any motivation to beat an English team in Dublin.
England will still have the memories of their trip to Ireland two years ago in search of a Grand Slam and taking a 24-8 beating from the Irish. If both packs cancel each other out, it will come down to which of the back lines can be the more creative. England’s option to spring Manu Tuilagi from the bench will surely be used and he will bring a serious threat. It’s the back line of Ireland though that should see out a home victory. A balanced mix of experience and raw talent and youth may be just enough to give Ireland their second win and set them up for a repeat of 2009.
IRELAND. R. KEARNEY, C. GILROY, B. O’DRISCOLL, G. D’ARCY, S. ZEBO, J. SEXTON, C. MURRAY, C. HEALY, R. BEST, M. ROSS, M. McCARTHY, D. RYAN, P. O’MAHONY, S. O’BRIEN, J. HEASLIP,
ENGLAND. A. GOODE, C. ASHTON, B. BARRITT, B. TWELVETREES, M. BROWN, O. FARRELL, B. YOUNGS, J. MARLER, T. YOUNGS, D. COLE, J. LAUNCHBURY, G. PARLING, J. HASKELL, C. ROBSHAW, T. WOOD.