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Will Greenwood: Ireland trip is huge test for young England

Perfect ten? England's Owen Farrell

"Dublin will provide a big test of Farrell's nerve but his composure is consistently top notch - remember, for example, his display in Paris last year - and I expect him to relish the intensity of the occasion."

Betfair Ambassador Will Greenwood was delighted to see England kick on against Scotland last weekend. He believes Stuart Lancaster's young Lions have a big future but whether they can win in Dublin on Sunday is another matter.

Ireland v England 
15:00, Sunday February 10, BBC1

England demonstrated in their win over Scotland that they have come a long way in the last year. We must always be careful not to get carried away but the consensus in the press box, and in the corridors, at Twickenham last Saturday was that we have the makings of a very strong team.

Defeating an ailing Scotland at home will hardly send shockwaves around world rugby but not every match is going to produce the drama and catharsis that England's autumn annihilation of New Zealand did. Stuart Lancaster sent his team out to keep the momentum going, compound confidence and get off to a winning start. That's exactly what they did. 

Owen Farrell was a deserved man of the match. Everybody knows his goal-kicking is immaculate but his passing and tackling were impressive too. Dublin will provide a big test of Farrell's nerve but his composure is consistently top notch - remember, for example, his display in Paris last year - and I expect him to relish the intensity of the occasion.

Billy Twelvetrees enjoyed a try-scoring debut and you can't really ask for more at international level. Manu Tuilagi is fit and all the speculation is about who Lancaster selects - the Gloucester man or the Leicester destroyer. If he picks Manu to play alongside Bradley Barritt then fair enough, why disrupt the partnership that saw off the All Blacks? If the coach decides Twelvetrees is ready to face Brian O'Driscoll and co. then I salute his bravery.

Put like that, it sounds like Lancaster can't lose. But this is Dublin where England haven't won for a decade and, mammoth task though it is, this Red Rose squad are determined to blossom on the biggest stage. "Squad" is the word. There's fierce competition for places, in the backs and up front. I thought Joe Launchbury, Geoff Parling and substitute Courtney Lawes all had excellent games at second row last weekend.            

Ireland were excellent for 47 minutes against Wales and, regardless of who you support, a decent return from a legend like O'Driscoll is always welcome. He was lively around the breakdown, remains a shrewd poacher and looked physically strong. Of course, the man they call "BOD" ran England's defenders ragged at the Aviva two years ago and denied Martin Johnson's team a Grand Slam - a result I tipped.  

Much as it always hurts me to do this, I'm afraid I must go against England again. There are many stages involved in becoming a great team and defeat is one of them. I was in an England side that lost in Dublin in 2001 and I scored a couple of tries when we won there two years later. Yes, that is the last time we won in Ireland but rather than dwell on the past I think this team have a bright future.

As for the present, I'm a little surprised to see England trading as short as 2.0621/20 and I'm going to swerve the match odds this time. It will be close and competitive and when it's like that, you have to put your money on the home side, so I'm backing Ireland to win by under 12.5 points at around 2.915/8.

The opening exchanges will be frenetic and I'm going to back a try in 11-20 minutes, once the market is liquid.

Simon Zebo stole the limelight with his Zolaesque magic in Cardiff but I'm backing his opposite winger, Craig Gilroy, for first try-scorer.   

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Back Ireland -12.5 @ 2.915/8

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09 February 2013

Will Greenwood

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