With the World Cup just days away, the significance of this match cannot be understated. England and Ireland will fight tooth and nail for the win, knowing that the loser will enter the tournament off the back of two consecutive defeats.
On paper, England’s results have not made for the best reading of late. Yet, they do not tell the full story, as the hosts have played some world class attacking rugby in their warm up games. A lack of concentration and consistency, both from game to game and throughout the 80 minutes will be the greatest cause of concern for Stuart Lancaster.
Some controversial selections regarding his final 31-man World Cup squad could come back to haunt him should his picks not deliver, and the scrutiny will begin with this clash against the Six Nations Champions.
Former Rugby League star Sam Burgess has made the cut despite receiving just one England cap, ousting Northampton Saints big man Luther Burrell in the process. Burrell not only has 13 caps and three England tries to his name, but he also outscored Burgess in the Premiership this season.
Some are hailing Burgess as a ‘wild card’, and although it could be a risky choice, it could reap big rewards for Lancaster. Perhaps less surprisingly is the omission of Danny Cipriani, with George Ford and Owen Hargreaves the two preferred flyhalfs.
There are five changes to the team from the 25-20 defeat to France two weeks ago, with Brad Barritt replacing Burrell at centre and Tom Wood and Ben Morgan ousting James Haskell and Billy Vunipola in the back row.
Geoff Parling replaces Joe Launchbury to link up with Courtney Lawes in the second row, while Anthony Watson slides back on to the wing in place of Jack Nowell.
Ireland suffered a disappointing defeat against Wales last weekend in their final home match before the World Cup, in what was supposed to be a happy Aviva Stadium send off for Paul O’Connell.
Tommy Bowe and Simon Zebo return to the backs along with Jared Payne, with Dave Kearney rewarded with a left wing berth after an all action display against Wales.
Sean O’Brien returns in place of Jordi Murphy to complete the first choice back row along with Jamie Heaslip and Peter O’Mahoney.
Rory Best returns as hooker, with Milke Ross and Devin Toner completing the front row superseding Richardt Strauss, Nathan White, and Iain Henderson.
Joe Schmidt gave captain O’Connell the opportunity to sit this one out, but the consummate
professional opted to play and leads his nation once again from second row.
Both sides enter this tie with matching records in their last five games , with three wins sandwiched in between two defeats. A second consecutive defeat would not bode well for either team heading into the World Cup and would place added pressure on them both to win their opening Pool games.
Lancaster and Schmidt have selected competitive squads capable of beating any team on their day, and bragging rights here would be a great platform from which to build some much needed momentum. This game could well be decided upon the dual between fly halfs George Ford and Jonathan Sexton, and Ford in particular has to perform with Owen Farrell breathing down his neck.
England and Ireland have each looked vulnerable at the back and will look to put in a strong defensive display, but the home side possess a couple of pacey aces in the form of Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson that, should cause the Irish a headache or two.
England by six.
England: Mike Brown (Harlequins); Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby), Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby), Brad Barritt (Saracens), Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby); George Ford (Bath Rugby), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers); Joe Marler (Harlequins), Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Geoff Parling, Tom Wood (Northampton Saints), Chris Robshaw (capt, Harlequins), Ben Morgan (Gloucester Rugby).
Replacements: Jamie George (Saracens), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Kieran Brookes (Northampton Saints), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Billy Vunipola (Saracens), Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens), Owen Farrell (Saracens), Sam Burgess (Bath Rugby).
Ireland: Simon Zebo (Munster); Tommy Bowe (Ulster), Jared Payne (Ulster), Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Dave Kearney (Leinster); Johnny Sexton (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster); Jack McGrath (Leinster), Rory Best (Ulster), Mike Ross (Leinster); Devin Toner (Leinster), Paul O’Connell (Munster) capt; Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Sean O’Brien (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster).
Replacements: Richardt Strauss (Leinster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster), Nathan White (Connacht), Donnacha Ryan (Munster), Chris Henry (Ulster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Ian Madigan (Leinster), Darren Cave (Ulster)