It looks set to be the Six Nations decider. Oli Davis previews this Sunday’s crucial game in Dublin and looks at the key areas where silverware may be won or lost.
Sunday’s Six Nations fixture will see a confident England squad travel to the Aviva stadium in Dublin for a potential Grand Slam decider. It promises to be a monumental clash, the biggest of this year’s tournament for sure. Here is where the game will be won and lost:
Stuart Lancaster Vs Joe Schmidt:
If last year’s hard fought encounter between these two sides is anything to go by, the tactics laid out by these two men will be crucial to the result. The enigmatic Schmidt is renowned for having one of the great rugby brains in the world, it will be interesting to see the tactics he employs after Lancaster got the better of him last year. The England Head Coach will be extremely wary of this well-drilled Irish side. Already the selections of Jack Nowell and Alex Goode (the latter due to Mike Brown’s injury), show a determination to win the all-important aerial battle, an area which Schmidt is bound to target.
The two front-rows:
The Irish scrum capitulated during the second half of last round’s fixture against France. That will be a huge concern for the Irish and a weakness which England and their forwards coach Graham Rountree will no doubt seek to exploit. The English front-row has significant strength in depth and their starting trio of Joe Marler, Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole is as strong as any in the world. Schmidt’s decision to exclude the experienced and powerful Cian Healy from the Irish starting team in favour of Jack McGrath has turned a few heads, we’ll see this weekend whether McGrath and his front-row colleagues Rory Best and Mike Ross can withstand the challenge.
Jonny Sexton Vs George Ford:
This promises to be the most important positional battle of them all. The Leinster-bound Sexton was in fine form against France after a 12 week lay-off due to concussion, kicking all of his goals and dictating the entire game. Bath Fly-Half Ford has been in imperious form all year, let alone this year’s tournament. If Ford can unlock a tight Irish defence, releasing the flyers Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson, England have a strong chance of causing an upset. There will be questions surrounding Ford’s goal-kicking. He hasn’t been as consistent as England would have liked and with Sexton inevitably slotting kicks from all over the pitch, Ford simply has to do the same.
Alex Goode Vs Rob Kearney:
This battle is important for a myriad of reasons. Kearney is one of Ireland’s first names on the team sheet, he dominates the aerial battle as well as providing a real attacking threat. Goode on the other hand has not started for England in two years and has displayed some inconsistent form for Saracens this year. Goode will be bombarded with high balls off the boots of Sexton, Connor Murray and Kearney, it remains to be seen whether he will be able to cope with such an onslaught. Furthermore, expect Schmidt to have concocted a well thought-out plan to deal with the threat of Ford, it is likely to be one involving shutting down his time and space to wreak havoc. Goode will have the added responsibility of protecting Ford, taking the pressure off his shoulders by kicking and acting as stand in Fly-Half on occasion.
Oli: Ireland by 3. It is very difficult to call but I think Ireland will look to suffocate England, not play too expansively and allow Sexton to kick them to victory. I hope I am proved wrong.
Freddie: (Online Sports Editor)– England by 5. Potentially foolish optimism but this English pack is looking monumental. I think they will dominate up front and allow George Ford enough space to feed his runners.bookmark me