NEXT Sunday afternoon’s match, 3pm, will be the swing game for Ireland, the one on which their season depends.
It is also their first away game of the Guinness Six Nations and their credentials will be tested by England.
Win this Triple Crown decider and it is Italy at home and a possible Championship or Grand Slam game in Paris.
Lose and some of the grumblings about the team’s style and head coach Andy Farrell will begin to rear their heads again.
The way the fixtures have panned out, winning any title this year was always going to be difficult playing England and France away but two home fixtures to start with certainly was there to give Ireland a leg up. All of a sudden now we can dare to dream.
There has been a noticeable improvement from Ireland between those two opening games culminating in a win over current champions Wales last time out.
Ireland can also take encouragement that Eddie Jones’ side have yet to find any sort of form, although the weather in Murrayfield probably hid what England were trying to do.
This Irish squad though is by and large the one that coughed up 32 points in the Six Nations last year in Dublin to England and the one that was humiliated in Twickenham last summer. How much those games will play into the Ireland players’ minds is going to be a huge factor heading into next Sunday.
Ireland will have to build on their defensive displays so far in the championships. They have only coughed up two tries in this Six Nations although it could have been double that if Stuart Hogg and Hadleigh Parkes held on the ball a bit better. Defence will be a huge part of Sunday’s game and the resistance they produced for two minutes against Scotland at the end of the game which culminated in CJ Stander’s penalty proves that the former rugby league man Farrell has not let standards drop.
Ireland have to be dominant in the tackle the way they were against Wales but that is a big chore given the size and speed of the English players.
Off those dominant tackles Ireland are going to have to recycle the ball quickly as they did against Wales and give a backline which has proven try scorers something to work with and more importantly make England work.
Ireland have a back three that made huge metres in the game against Wales and they have to try to repeat that at the weekend but that will come down to dominating the tackle and getting the ball away from the England forwards – and stop Maro Itoje in particular from making a nuisance of himself at the breakdown.
England won’t be playing the sort of drift defence that Wales played at the weekend so speed really does become crucial.
Eddie Jones will be targeting Ireland’s scrum as well on Sunday afternoon and Ireland will again have to show the same level of improvement between games one and two this weekend.
Ireland were under serious pressure in the scrum against Scotland and were pinged twice on Cian Healy’s side.
That is the same Scotland side who a week later coughed up two scrum penalties of their own to England. Ireland also conceded another scrum penalty against Wales by Tadhg Furlong so Jones will feel it’s an area his side will dominate given that they have yet to concede a scrum penalty themselves. And he will look to Owen Farrell for points or field position from any penalty scrums.
With that in mind, discipline is also going to be key. Ireland do not want to be giving their head coach’s son any kicking opportunities at goal. On any sort of day he is capable of turning the screw with his kicking accuracy.
Ireland’s discipline was worse against Wales, they conceded nine to Scotland and 10 to Wales so they need to throttle back on the penalty count next Sunday.
England have only coughed up 11 penalties in their two games so far so they are painting good pictures for the ref before the game even begins.
Jones will also be looking to his pack to dominate the lineout. Even though Ireland’s lineout improved against Wales, the England pack are immense at that setpiece and Ireland’s lineout defence will have to be better than it was against Wales in the last play of the game.