Simon Mail previews England's final World Cup warm-up and thinks Stuart Lancaster's side can claim a much-needed victory at Twickenham...
"If England can claim a win over the Six Nations champions it would provide them with the ideal boost heading into crucial pool matches against Australia and Wales."
England v Ireland
Saturday September 5, 14:30
Live on Sky Sports 1
The countdown is almost over with just two weeks until hosts England kick off the World Cup against Fiji. This weekend's home clash against Ireland represents the last competitive opportunity for Stuart Lancaster before the tournament gets underway and a strong showing, coupled with a win, is a necessity after their disappointing defeat in France last month.
It is the first match for England since Lancaster selected his final 31-man squad for the World Cup. Sam Burgess was picked in the backs despite making just one appearance in the recent win over France and centre Luther Burrell can consider himself unlucky to miss out. Danny Cipriani was also left out of the squad despite a superb cameo from off the bench in Paris.
England will want to pick up a victory to give them some momentum heading into their World Cup opener. Lancaster's side were well below par in France where a succession of penalties proved costly. It was only towards the end of the match where the substitutes such as Cipriani made a big impact and restored some respectability with a flattering 25-20 defeat.
With hosts England second favourites behind holders New Zealand, there is real expectancy and pressure on the team at the World Cup. This warm-up match against Ireland carries plenty of significance because a home defeat would send them into the competition with plenty of doubts. But if the team can claim a win over the Six Nations champions it would provide them with the ideal boost heading into crucial pool matches against Australia and Wales.
Lancaster knows the importance of a victory and has picked a very strong side to face the Irish. Inside centre Brad Barritt makes his first appearance for England since November after missing the Six Nations with an ankle injury. Barritt lines up alongside Jonathan Joseph for the first time from the start and if the pair perform they are widely expected to form the World Cup centre partnership. Captain Chris Robshaw is joined in the back row by Tom Wood and Ben Morgan.
Ireland are fancied by many to contend at the World Cup after Joe Schmidt guided them to back-to-back Six Nations titles. The Irish had a blip last weekend after a lacklustre performance resulted in a 16-10 home defeat to Wales. Ireland will not want to go into the tournament following successive defeats but the visitors are seen as underdogs against England at Twickenham.
Schmidt has named a strong team for this weekend's clash which features 12 of the team which defeated Scotland in their final Six Nations match this year. Simon Zebo gets the chance to impress at full-back while regular half-backs Jonny Sexton and Connor Murray start the match. Prop Cian Healy is not risked, despite making their World Cup squad, as he continues to recover from his neck operation in May.
Although England lost the most recent meeting, in a 19-9 Six Nations defeat in Dublin, their overall recent record is impressive. Four of the last five clashes have been won by England including the last two contests at Twickenham. The last of these victories came in a 13-10 win in February 2014 and there is every chance of a similarly tight match.
Both teams will be determined to make a statement with a victory in a potential preview of a semi-final clash. But the pressure on England is far greater as hosts and playing in front of their own supporters. Lancaster knows he needs to get the momentum behind his team and they can ill afford to fluff their lines this weekend. The last three games between them have been settled by ten points or less and a narrow England win looks the most likely outcome.
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