Six Nations
Six Nations preview: England vs. Ireland - Hosts face first division
Tristan Barclay
February 26, 2016

England vs. Ireland

Saturday, kick-off 16:50

Twickenham

As Sir Clive Woodward famously mentioned while evaluating England's victory over Italy a fortnight ago, this Saturday will be Eddie Jones' first taste of the big leagues as England head coach. Ireland travel to Twickenham with a lengthy injury list, but are sure to pose more of a threat to the English than the Azzurri or Scotland have managed so far.

Team news

England prospect Maro Itoje has been handed his first England start in one of two changes for Jones' men. The exciting Saracens lock replaces the injured Joe Launchbury, with Joe Marler the other change, starting at loosehead in place of Mako Vunipola. Courtney Lawes is named on the bench alongside Elliot Daly, who will make his Test debut if called from the replacements.

In the Irish ranks, Stuart McCloskey and Josh van der Flier make their Test debuts, with battering ram centre McCloskey replacing injured Ulster teammate Jared Payne and Leinster's 22-year-old Van der Flier starting at openside flanker. Connacht's 22-year-old lock Ultan Dillane could also make his Test bow off the bench, with Donnacha Ryan replacing concussion victim Mike McCarthy in Ireland's injury-hit second row.

England: Brown, Watson, Joseph, Farrell, Nowell, Ford, Youngs; Marler, Hartley (c), Cole, Itoje, Kruis, Robshaw, Haskell, B. Vunipola

Replacements: George, M. Vunipola, Hill, Lawes, Clifford, Care, Daly, Goode

Ireland: Kearney, Trimble, Henshaw, McCloskey, Earls, Sexton, Murray; McGrath, Best, Ross, Ryan, Toner, Stander, Van der Flier, Heaslip

Replacements: Strauss, Healy, White, Dillane, Ruddock, Reddan, Madigan, Zebo

Key head-to-head

It has to be the second-row battle. England have two inexperienced operators in Itoje and George Kruis lining up together. However, while they may lack international caps, the pair know each other well as Saracens teammates. Ireland's engine room boasts the more senior partnership of Donnacha Ryan and Devin Toner, but England's athleticism could overpower the Irish unit.

Key stats

*Twickenham is perhaps no longer the fortress it once was -- England have lost their last two matches at home, against Wales and Australia in the World Cup -- but the hosts have not lost three in a row at the venue since 2008.

*England are yet to concede a try in the opening two rounds of this year's Six Nations, while Ireland are without a win in 2016 after a draw with Wales and defeat by France.

*Ireland's CJ Stander has the most carries (42) of any player so far this tournament, while England lock George Kruis has won the most lineouts (15).

Form guide

England: WWWLL

Ireland: LDLWW

Odds

Unibet have an England victory priced at 7/25 and offer an Ireland win at 13/5.

Fantasy player to watch

After his hat trick of tries against Italy last time out, there's an argument to say England's Jonathan Joseph will be the man to watch at Twickenham. However, if Ireland's defence holds firmer than Italy's -- as it should -- then Owen Farrell is a better bet. With tries likely to be at a premium, the kicking game is where fantasy points will be scored.

Prediction

Ireland's raft of injuries and brand new centre partnership mean they are far from the settled outfit that has claimed successive Six Nations titles. England's recent record at Twickenham is far from impressive, but home advantage should see them home this weekend -- perhaps by 10 points.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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