Guinness Six Nations - Ireland To Dominate Enroute to Historic Grand Slam
Guinness Six Nations - Ireland To Dominate Enroute to Historic Grand Slam
Ireland host England at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on St.Patricks day 2023 in the Guinness Six Nations Championship. Ireland seeking for a Grand Slam.
Andy Farrell's Ireland team enter the final round of the 2023 Guinness Six Nations on the precipice of creating yet another piece of history.
Building on their awe-inspiring series victory over the All Blacks and undefeated November series in 2022, the men in green are on the verge of landing a first-ever Grand Slam on home soil.
Collecting just three Grand Slams in their 127-year history in the Championship, adding a fourth clean sweep to the history books would be a sensational achievement.
Standing in their way, as they have on so many occasions, is England. Yet, this meeting between the two sides projects to be perhaps the most lopsided it has been in quite some time.
Ireland enters the fixture as the world's number one team, England, on the other hand, enters as a side who have just been on the receiving end of a record home defeat.
Just four games into the Steve Borthwick era, English Rugby are already at a crossroads. Two wins against weak opposition have done little to paper over the devasting defeats they have received at Twickenham.
Round four's 53 – 10 defeat to France and a 29 – 23 loss to Scotland, both teams whom Ireland comfortably defeated, will have Borthwick worried about what may unfold come Saturday.
In short, these are two teams at very different stages of their journeys and, at present, on very different trajectories.
Ireland is bonified World Cup contender, whilst England is looking to right the ship following three somewhat inconsistent years since their 2019 Rugby World Cup final appearance.
Farrell has made just three changes from his side that put Scotland to the sword in round four.
Having seen five players leave the pitch injured in round four, there was concern that most, if not all, would not return this weekend.
In the end, the trio of Garry Ringrose, Ronan Kelleher and Iain Henderson miss out, whilst Caelen Doris and Dan Sheehan are deemed fit.
Robbie Henshaw, Rob Herring and Ryan Baird come in the injured trios' places. Due to the elevation of Henshaw and Barid from the bench to the starting line-up, Kieran Treadwell and Jimmy O'Brien come into the team on the bench.
Farrell has made one positional switch, with Jamison Gibson-Park getting the start ahead of Conor Murray, who drops to the bench.
Borthwick, too has rotated his squad for this weekend's clash. Headlining the changes is the return of captain Owen Farrell who regains the starting flyhalf role ahead of Marcus Smith following a challenging day out in round four for the Harlequins star.
In a blast from the past, Borthwick has reunited Farrell with two of his 2019 World Cup teammates in centres Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade. It is the first time the trio have lined up under Borthwick, having struggled to settle on a midfield pairing with enough power and skill for the international game.
Outside the midfield axis, Henry Arundell starts on the wing in a move that will have England fans salivating at the potential he brings to the position. Having burst onto the scene in 2022, the London Irish youngster brings an air of anticipation every time he touches the ball.
Borthwick's final change comes in the forwards, with David Ribbans replacing Ollie Chessum in the secondrow, who misses out altogether due to injury.
Speaking about the challenge facing his side this weekend, Borthwick said: "We travel to Dublin to face an Ireland team on Saturday that has the chance to secure a Grand Slam victory at home for the first time,"
"We know that after the bitter disappointment of the display against an exceptional France team last week, we will have to be much improved to meet the challenge of playing the side presently ranked No 1 in the world.
"However, I have witnessed an England squad determined to make amends for the defeat at Twickenham, and I am confident that the team announced today will once again want to show the sort of resilience and attitude that brought us victory in Wales."
Across the park, several match-ups will make for exciting viewing, given the quality of players on show.
Both backlines are jam-packed with talented players. However, the forwards are a very different story, with Ireland holding a clear advantage in that department.
Parking the issue of form for just a minute, the battle of the midfield axis of flyhalf and the two centres offers up perhaps the closest of contests given the similarities in styles of players.
Looking at each player individually, the similarities between the two captains Jonathan Sexton for Ireland and Owen Farrell for England, have long been discussed. At their best, both men are exceptional playmakers who control their respective teams, attacking games with masterful precision.
Such is the quality of the two players: they have been dominant figures in the international game for over a decade. Their combination on the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour was perhaps one of the greatest 10/12 axis the game has ever seen.
Six years on, the two players remain a force in the game. Yes, Farrell has had his struggles this season, as Sexton did in seasons gone by. But the two remain vital to any success either nation hopes to achieve come Saturday and further down the line at the World Cup.
In the centres, the bruising duo of Bundee Aki and Manu Tuilagi will square off in one of the most physical confrontations one could hope to see on a rugby pitch.
Whoever gets the upper hand in this clash could go a long way to deciding the gain line success of their team.
Outside of the bruising duo are two highly skilful operators, Robbie Henshaw and Henry Slade. Given the devastating injury to the world-class Garry Ringrose, Henshaw's return to the line-up could not have come at a better time.
Like Ringrose, Henshaw is a silky operator with exceptional hands, a solid kicking game and unrivalled defensive intellect. Equally adept at inside or outside centre, Henshaw will be looking to remind Irish fans what they have been missing in his absence.
Slade, too is a sublime operator and possibly the most skilful player in the English backline. Now 29 years old, Slade feels like a player who still has plenty to offer the white jersey. For England to match their Irish counterparts, Slade must return to the devastating form he showed during England's 2019 obliteration of the same opposition.
As with the other two fixtures this weekend, on paper, there is only one winner. Ireland is rightfully regarded as the best team in the world and the best in Irish history.
England, on the other hand, is still in their infancy under Borthwick. Unlike their rebirth under former head coach Eddie Jones post the 2015 World Cup, they do not appear to have the players to challenge the other top teams in the game.
Throw into the mix the reactionary way in which the coaching staff have changed their team throughout the Championship, and England's hopes look rather bleak.
Like Wales, England's reversion to players who have performed in the past with a sprinkling of youngsters has them in limbo land. Yes, England came to Dublin in 2019 and derailed the then-world number-one-ranked Ireland to such an extent they never recovered. That night, England physically battered and kicked Ireland to death, something Borthwick looks to be hoping will happen again.
Expecting lightning to strike twice should never be a strategy for any sports team. The stark difference between now and four years ago is that this Irish team is like a world-class boxer. They sit back and assess what is being thrown their way before landing several counterpunches. Never has this been more evident than their awe-inspiring second-half showing at Murrayfield in round four.
Other factors that will have the Irish emotionally charged are the impending final appearance in the Six Nations for Sexton, a first Grand Slam on home soil and a raucous St. Patrick's weekend crowd.
All-in-all, there is simply too much riding on this one for Ireland to blow it, and England are facing a mountain both internally and externally.
As the evening sky settles in and the St. Patrick's day celebrations kick into overdrive, Irish Rugby will begin dreaming about bigger days ahead. There will be no record score, but Ireland will enter the final ten minutes comfortably ahead. Ireland by 16.
Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Mack Hansen, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (c), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park; 1 Andrew Porter, 2 Dan Sheehan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 4 Ryan Baird, 5 James Ryan, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 7 Josh van der Flier, 8 Caelan Doris.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Tom O'Toole, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Jimmy O'Brien.
England: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Henry Arundell, 10 Owen Farrell (c), 9 Jack van Poortvliet; 1 Ellis Genge, 2 Jamie George, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 David Ribbans, 5 Maro Itoje, 6 Lewis Ludlam, 7 Jack Willis, 8 Alex Dombrandt.
Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Nick Isiekwe, 20 Ben Curry, 21 Alex Mitchell, 22 Marcus Smith, 23 Joe Marchant.
Written by Philip Bendon
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