The game of the opening weekend in the Six Nations takes place in Dublin as Grand Slam champions Ireland host England. Simon Mail and Kieran O'Connor preview the clash...
"Ireland are unbeaten at home since losing to New Zealand in 2016 with only one defeat in their last 17 fixtures."
Ireland v England
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Schmidt aiming to bow out with another title
This season's Six Nations does not need any hype, with the World Cup on the horizon, but an opening weekend clash between Grand Slam champions Ireland and an England side with a point to prove should be something special. Joe Schmidt will end his exceptional stint as Ireland boss at the end of this year and he will be focused on delivering back-to-back titles.
Ireland ended last year in brilliant form with a home win over world champions New Zealand underlining the outstanding progress made by the now second ranked team in the world. Ireland have won 18 of their last 19 matches with a defeat in Australia last summer the only blemish since March 2017.
Schmidt has made a surprise selection after starting Robbie Henshaw at full-back which will be his first time in the position for Ireland since 2013. Johnny Sexton is fit to start at fly-half despite not playing since the end of December. Garry Ringrose and Bundee Aki line up as the centre partnership while scrum-half Conor Murray returns after missing the autumn internationals.
Jones under pressure to deliver for England
It all looked to be going so smoothly for Eddie Jones after guiding the team to successive Six Nations titles in his first two seasons in charge. But there was a major reality check in 2018 after England slumped to fifth place in the competition after losing three of their five matches.
Australian Jones has always maintained his priority is to peak at the World Cup in Japan this autumn but that still leaves plenty of issues to iron out in time for the tournament. England, who defeated Australia and South Africa in November, can still look one-dimensional in their attack at times and will need to develop their gameplan to become viable contenders for success this year.
With Ben Te'o unavailable due to injury, centre Manu Tuilagi makes his first Six Nations start since 2013. Tuilagi lines up alongside Henry Slade while Elliot Daly is chosen ahead of Mike Brown at full-back. George Kruis partners Saracens team-mate Maro Itoje in the second row while number eight Billy Vunipola's availability is a boost to the side.
Home domination points towards Irish
Ireland have bullied England recently and comprehensively outplayed them in their 24-15 win at Twickenham in March which sealed the Grand Slam. Schmidt's side have won the last two clashes and three of the last five meetings. Ireland are also unbeaten at home since losing to New Zealand in 2016 with only one defeat in their last 17 fixtures.
The hosts are worthy favourites for this clash although they will not underestimate the threat of a powerful England team. Ireland have prevented England from scoring a try on their last three trips to the Aviva Stadium and their defensive strength could frustrate them once again. Ireland's last three victories over England were by no more than ten points and another tight win for the champions looks the best bet.
Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster
The Irish View from Kieran O'Connor
Ireland take on England at a sold-out Lansdowne road on Saturday with Irish rugby on a real high. The reigning Grand Slam Champions followed that feat with a series victory in Australia, and then the big one, beating the All Blacks in Dublin. Make no mistake, this team has the Rugby World Cup right in its sights, but first it’s the Six Nations.
Ireland are the rightful favourites for the tournament, if they beat England in the opening round most pundits will make them short odds-on to lift the trophy. For England, Eddie Jones and his side have been heavy on the sound bites in the run up to the game, “this is not a squad for the Six Nations, this is a squad to beat Ireland” Jones has announced. There does look to be an element of truth to that. The England manager looks to have abandoned his World Cup plans for now and is fully focused on Ireland, he knows that a victory in Dublin would put his side right back where they need to be.
The English camp has also accused Ireland of being boring, the stats don’t seem to back that up. In the Autumn Ireland scored 22 tries in four games, England scored 11 tries in their four games. Notably, Ireland won all their games too, every team that has won the World Cup has won all the previous year’s Autumn International. A good omen perhaps?
To beat Ireland, you need to find a weak spot. England believe they have found that in what they perceive as their greater physicality. Brute force is the word that I have heard being used in the build-up. I am not sure where they are seeing this. Ireland bullied New Zealand at scrum and while before that Argentina had some joy, Schmidt was able to counter that in the second half. If England’s game plan is to bully Ireland, they will lose.
This is Eddie Jones’s fourth Six Nations and does anyone believe he knows what his best team is? He has tried many variations at 9, 10 and 12 and will probably tinker more over the tournament.
Joe Schmidt knows his best team, he knows his backups. The backups know exactly what is expected of them. A case in point: it looks like Robbie Henshaw will play full back on Saturday. The 25-year-old has won all but one of 36 caps at centre, the exception being his debut against the USA in the summer of 2013. Initially a fullback by trade, this is certainly done with an eye on the World Cup and the fact that Ireland are rich at centre with Payne, Aki, Ringrose and Farrell all contenders for inside & outside centre.
England will come to Dublin and give everything, but right now it is hard to see anything beyond an Irish victory. The game plan of brute force from the away side may keep the score down till the second half making the handicap of nine points probably a little high. A safer bet is Ireland to win by 1-12 points at 8/5 on the Betfair Sportsbook.
P/L 2018-19 season