England v Ireland, Six Nations, March 17
Ireland out to burst England's bubble
March 16, 2012
Will victory over Ireland see England's interim head coach Stuart Lancaster handed the job full time? © Getty Images
England could be playing for the Six Nations title when they tackle Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday but in all likelihood both sides will be playing for the runners-up spot come kick off in south west London.
Wales' superior points difference means England must put Ireland to the sword and hope France wreck the Grand Slam party in Cardiff earlier in the day if they are to successfully defend the northern hemisphere crown. Defeat to Wales and a draw with France means second place is the best the Irish can hope for on their latest visit to English rugby's HQ and they will be confident of achieving that goal having won seven of their last eight Six Nations matches against England, including three of the last four meetings at Twickenham.
The major sub-plot involves the future of England's interim head coach Stuart Lancaster. His very public audition for the full time role received a massive boost with an historic victory over France last weekend and many believe success against Ireland could prompt the Rugby Football Union to end their hunt for a successor to Martin Johnson. But the Irish showed glimpses of their best against the French a fortnight ago and a ruthless streak against the Scots last time out and will have little concern for Lancaster and co come kick off.
England - Player to Watch: Winger Chris Ashton's defensive work earned praise last weekend but can he break his try-scoring duck in this year's Championship against the Irish?
England - Team News: Winger David Strettle has been recalled after recovering from a sternum injury at the expense of Charlie Sharples who drops out of the squad. Bath hooker Lee Mears is promoted to the replacements in place of the injured Rob Webber while Northampton No.8 Phil Dowson also makes the bench again despite being knocked out in the closing stages of the victory over France. Owen Farrell retains the playmaking duties and will partner Lee Dickson once again while Chris Robshaw skippers the side from openside.
Ireland - Player to Watch: Winger Tommy Bowe has notched five tries in this year's Six Nations and is so one short of matching the record held jointly by England's Will Greenwood (2000) and Chris Ashton (2011) and Wales' Shane Williams (2008).
Ireland - Team News: Ireland have confirmed that Sean O'Brien will start having recovered from a foot infection with openside Peter O'Mahony moving to the bench and Shane Jennings dropping out of the squad. O'Brien's return is the only change to the side that beat Scotland with captain Rory Best (ribs) and lock Donnacha Ryan (shoulder) both included despite carrying injuries that will limit their involvement in training. Best will become Ireland's most capped hooker when he makes his 59th Test appearance, eclipsing Keith Wood's milestone of 58.
Key Battle: Ireland's Jonathan Sexton has been the stand-out fly-half in this year's Six Nations but in England's Owen Farrell he faces a rising star of the game. Both are sure to have a say in the outcome of the game with their respective packs set to determined who sees most of the ball. Which playmaker will rise highest to the occasion?
Trivia: England haven't lost back to back home games in the Five/Six Nations since 1983.
Stats: Ireland's Rob Kearney has made more metres (411) with the ball in hand than any other player in this year's Championship.
"If you ask any coach in any sport in any country 'what is the ultimate aim?' it is coach in your sport the national team. To that end it is the dream job."
"They're a good side and are full of winners, but when they lose they don't like it. They're bad losers and hopefully they'll be bad losers on Saturday."
Prediction: A bruising battle awaits with Ireland's superior experience set to give them the edge against the hosts.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.