It’s been a week to forget for Eddie Jones and England and if Ireland win on Saturday the knives will sharpen after a dismal Six Nations.
Following losses to Scotland and France in their recent outings, England did not need off-field matters to then dominate media headlines.
There has been the furore over having Marius van der Westhuizen, an appointed assistant referee at Twickenham, at their training session, and then throw in a video of Jones making offensive comments about the Irish and Welsh, and other on-field matters have taken a backseat.
Drawing a line under those two debacles – Van der Westhuizen has since been replaced on the touchline by Nigel Owens – and we have a huge game on the horizon at Twickenham. Ireland will be determined to win a first Grand Slam since 2009 and on form many expect them to do so.
After recent results, it’s been no surprise to see respective line-ups taking a different approach ahead of Saturday. England have wielded the axe as seven changes are made to their XV while Ireland limit their tweaks to just one as Iain Henderson displaces Devin Toner at lock.
For England the decision to drop George Ford and put Owen Farrell in his club position of fly-half has been met gleefully in many quarters while fellow Saracen, Richard Wigglesworth, is brought in for Danny Care alongside him to add greater calmness and game management at nine.
However it’s been public knowledge that the breakdown area has been England’s Achilles heel of late and if they come off second best again then Ireland should win. That filters to a lack of dynamism shown in Paris and subsequent starts this week for the likes of Kyle Sinckler.
The Irish have had no such headaches as their balance between the physical and expansive game has seen them rightfully crowned Six Nations champions with a game to spare. Make no mistake though the importance that Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton have had on this fine campaign.
It promises to be a high-octane and spicy contest as England set out to do what Ireland did to them in 2017 and deny them the clean sweep. The last six meetings have been settled by 11 points or fewer and we envisage a similarly tight game with so much on the line. Ireland can take the next giant leap towards being genuine Rugby World Cup contenders with victory while one can’t write off a wounded England at home.
Will it be a third Grand Slam for Ireland or will England respond with their backs to the wall? All eyes will be on Twickenham to find out.
2017: Ireland won 13-09 in Dublin
2016: England won 21-10 in London
2015: England won 21-13 in London
2015: Ireland won 19-09 in Dublin
2014: England won 13-10 in London
2013: England won 12-06 in Dublin
2012: England won 30-09 in London
2011: England won 20-09 in Dublin
2011: Ireland won 24-08 in Dublin
2010: Ireland won 20-16 in London
England: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Jonny May, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 James Haskell, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Don Armand, 21 Danny Care, 22 George Ford, 23 Mike Brown
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Dan Leavy, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 James Ryan, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Jordan Larmour
Date: Saturday, March 17
Kick-off: 14:45 GMT
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Nigel Owens (Wales)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)