After dispatching Italy and France, the Irish will begin its Triple Crown journey against the in-form England at the Aviva Stadium. The winner of this heavyweight clash will pass the half-way point as the only unbeaten team, opening the door for the Grand Slam.
England thwarted Joe Schmidt’s boys 13-10 in the Twickenham meeting last year, but Ireland weren’t to be denied the Six Nations championship.
After Ireland’s remarkable run of results against the Auld Enemy from 2004 to 2011, winning all but one game, the tide is turning back in England’s favour. They have won the last three Six Nations meetings (two at home, one away), plus a 2011 World Cup warm-up game in Dublin.
England will love nothing more than to dethrone the reigning champions and claim the trophy for themselves, so what must Ireland change to deny the rise of the red rose?
2014: England 13-10 Ireland
As previously mentioned, England emerged victorious last season, doing so by a solitary penalty kick. Ireland made the perfect start to the second half with Rob Kearney bursting towards the line. However, the hosts stepped up their game and forced their way through thanks to Danny Care in the 56th minute.
The conversion that followed was the last score of the game as both sides cancelled each other out. Ireland will have to adapt their game if they are going to breach the white wall of defence. England’s playbook will be bolstered with fresh faces like Jonathan Joseph, who has the overall lead of tries scored (3).
2013: Ireland 6-12 England
2013 was a torrid year for Ireland, which saw them lose (among other things) its decade long unbeaten home record against England. This was by no means a classic, with the game being tryless and scores earned only with the boot. Ireland’s Ronan O’Gara succeeded with two of his three penalties, while Owen Farrell had four kicks out of six find its mark. Declan Kidney would end up losing his job at the end of the campaign.
2012: England 30-9 Ireland
Stuart Lancaster’s side earned an emphatic win in 2012, but this was a rubber match as Wales had already won the Grand Slam at England’s expense. Still, they took their frustrations out on Ireland with a bruising and clinical effort. Two tries (one converted) and six penalties easily outshone Jonny Sexton’s three kicks. This was also the first time since 2003’s drubbing that Ireland failed to cross the English try line.
2011: Ireland 24-8 England
England were champions once more, but suffered a major humbling as Ireland put them to the sword in a dominant performance. A leaked Nike advert had appeared on social media in preparations for an English Grand Slam, but this only spurred Ireland on to deny the clean sweep. Tommy Bowe will fancy himself this weekend should he start as he scored the first try, followed up by Brian O’Driscoll in the second half. Steve Thompson got one try back, but England had to feed off scraps in Martin Johnson’s last Six Nations game in charge.
2010: England 16-20 Ireland
This evenly matched affair between the neighbouring nations was still intriguing despite poor weather conditions. A late Bowe try with an O’Gara two-pointer secured the tie for Ireland. The then Ospreys wing had scored very quickly in the first half too to turn up the heat on England. The popular Jonny Wilkinson was not in his best kicking form; missing three penalties and being charged down when trying to kick the ball away.
By studying recent results, it’s obvious that Ireland have areas in which to improve against its great rival. However, the squad is blessed with players who have seen this and done that who can get the result, particularly at home. Jamie Heaslip’s forced absence will be costly, but if Ireland can be clinical in their positive phases and keep cool heads, a third win in as many games is very achievable.
By Eoin Harmon – 26/2/15
Featured image by bixentro, Flickr.com Creative Commons