IRELAND face England at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday hoping to save their season with a third victory in a row in the Six Nations Championship, while also avoiding a fifth successive defeat at the hands of England at Test level.
#TeamOfUs— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) March 18, 2021
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Head Coach Andy Farrell has named his Ireland Match Day 23 for Saturday's #GuinnessSixNations clash against England at @AVIVAStadium 🙌
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Ireland would have been hoping to face the England team that lost to Scotland and Wales early in the tournament, but unfortunately for Andy Farrell, his side is more likely to face the version that beat France so impressively at Twickenham two weeks ago.
It’s not like France were poor either. The French have to face the horrible reality that despite being the best side in the competition for two years in a row, they have to watch someone else claim the title for the second year running.
France were brilliant at Twickenham, yet England had enough power and craft to get the job done. Ireland are going to have the same problems as France this weekend. If Ireland struggle to match the England power game that they could be in for a long day.
The standout difference between the English performance the last day versus that in the early rounds of the competition was their discipline. England still conceded in the double digits in terms of penalties, but the indiscretions were of the technical kind rather than just being from downright indiscipline as per the Scottish and Welsh defeats.
England are clearly operating right on the limits of legality, but against France they got the balance right.
Ireland managed to beat Scotland last weekend at Murrayfield, thanks to Jonathan Sexton’s fantastic late touchline penalty, but the victory probably masked Ireland’s failings on the day.
There was serious excitement when the New Zealander became eligible for Ireland duty late last year, and he impressed in his debut against Wales in the Autumn Nations Cup, scoring a try in the triumph.
But ever since he has been a complete liability when it comes to defence. Lowe will be 29 years of age in a few months. The odds on him becoming an international class defender at this stage of his career are extremely unrealistic.
Anthony Watson was England’s best player against France. The Bath winger is displaying Lions Test form at the minute and the thoughts of him going directly up against Lowe is actually frightening right now.
Andy Farrell is Ireland’s head coach, and head coach’s have to make big calls. The big call has to be made re Lowe straight away. He clearly is not good enough for international fare. Yes, he can be brilliant going forward, but there are just too many deficiencies in his game, and quite simply there are better options available for Ireland in the back three at present.
England’s talismanic second row Maro Itoje was the main man in England’s win over France, with him backing up an all-action display with the winning try a few minutes from time. He may not be England’s captain, yet, but everything good from them generates from him.
Itoje’s influence is clear for all to see, and comes into more focus when you consider that Ireland’s version, James Ryan, will be marked absent due to the head injury sustained last weekend in Murrayfield. Quietening Itoje was always going to be a challenge, but doing so without Ryan makes it an even bigger one.
The partnership of Ryan and Iain Henderson, with Tadhg Beirne positioned at blindside, was a combination that was working for Ireland in the last few games, and it remains to be seen as to how Andy Farrell comes up with a similar selection that can outgun Eddie Jones’ side.
The big fear, of course, is that if Farrell moves Beirne to the second row that he will disrupt a back-row combination that has worked very well for Ireland, with Beirne and Connors working very well with number eight CJ Stander in the last two games against Italy and Scotland.
To throw away that balance could well hand the initiative to England, whose back row of Mark Wilson, Tom Curry and Billy Vunipola worked so well together against France.
A special mention has to go to number eight CJ Stander on the occasion of his 51st and final cap for his adopted country. The Munster man announced his surprise retirement during the week, and the reaction to this news has shown just how highly thought of he is in this country.
The fact that he has never been considered anything other than one of our own speaks volumes for how well he bought into living in this country since his move here in 2012.
He will be missed.
15. Hugo Keenan (Leinster/UCD) 10 caps
14. Keith Earls (Munster/Young Munster) 92 caps
13. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) 51 caps
12. Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians) 30 caps
11. Jacob Stockdale (Ulster/Lurgan) 33 caps
10. Jonathan Sexton (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 98 caps
9. Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) 88 caps
1. Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians) 42 caps
2. Rob Herring (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 20 caps
3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf) 48 caps
4. Iain Henderson (Ulster/Academy) 62 caps
5. Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne) 21 caps
6. CJ Stander (Munster/Shannon) 50 caps
7. Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 30 caps
8. Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) 19 caps Replacements
16. Ronan Kelleher (Leinster/Lansdowne) 10 caps
17. Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 108 caps
18. Andrew Porter (Leinster/UCD) 36 caps
19. Ryan Baird (Leinster/Dublin University) 2 caps
20. Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) 74 caps
21. Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 9 caps
22. Billy Burns (Ulster) 6 caps
23. Jordan Larmour (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 28 caps