Ireland and England eye return to winning ways
August 26, 2011
Jonny Wilkinson will return to the England No.10 shirt for the their clash with Ireland in Dublin © Getty Images
Ireland and England will both target a timely boost when they go head-to-head in their final Rugby World Cup warm-up match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday.
A hat-trick of defeats in the last three weeks and injury concerns over key personnel have blighted the hosts' attempts to ready themselves for their latest World Cup assault while England saw their own hopes for the tournament dealt a blow with defeat in Cardiff a fortnight ago.
While this latest meeting of these two Six Nations rivals is clearly about fine-tuning their preparations for the World Cup, there will also be a whiff of revenge in the air. Ireland gate-crashed what England hoped would be a Grand Slam party back in March and although Martin Johnson's side still laid claim to the Championship title, the scars from that game, both physical and mental, will no doubt serve as inspiration of sorts.
Momentum is key with the World Cup looming but both sides will be aware that with that must come a certain level of performance. But which will hit on the winning combination?
Ireland - Player to Watch: Can a resurgent Geordan Murphy celebrate his timely return from injury with a big display for the hosts? The 33-year-old battled back from a severe ankle injury to earn a place in Declan Kidney's plans and having memorably broken his leg on the eve of the 2003 squad announcement he may well just be delighted to come through the game unscathed.
Ireland - Team News: Ireland are without Brian O'Driscoll (shoulder) and Sean O'Brien (knee) sit out the game to be replaced by Keith Earls and David Wallace. Blindside Stephen Ferris makes his first start for Ireland for eight months after being dogged with a persistent knee injury. Hooker Jerry Flannery and winger Tommy Bowe both makes their first starts of the summer following respective calf and foot injuries. Murphy starts at fullback after Rob Kearney, who was sidelined last weekend with a groin strain, was ruled out once again with Ronan O'Gara and Eoin Reddan named at half-back.
England - Player to Watch: England wing Chris Ashton makes his first appearance since the Six Nations having recovered from a foot injury. England will no doubt be relying heavily on a fit and firing Ashton to bring some much-needed firepower to their World Cup assault and so boss Martin Johnson and fans alike would welcome a reminder of his attacking prowess.
England - Team News: Manu Tuilagi starts at outside centre as one of six changes with the 20-year-old partnering Mike Tindall who moves to inside centre and continues as captain. Jonny Wilkinson returns to the No.10 shirt in the place of Toby Flood with Richard Wigglesworth preferred at scrum-half and Joe Simpson set to make his debut from the bench. Elsewhere, James Haskell is fit to start in the back-row, taking the No.7 shirt in the continued absence of Lewis Moody. Tom Croft returns at blindside flanker with Tom Wood dropping to the bench. Louis Deacon and Courtney Lawes pair up in the second-row while Andrew Sheridan makes his first appearance of the warm-up games in the front row. In a late change, while Nick Easter was replaced on the day of the game due to a tight calf with Sale's Hendre Fourie coming into the side with Haskell reverting to No.8. In another change - Tom Palmer was called onto the bench to replace Tom Wood who was withdrawn due to a calf strain
Key Battle: Both sides' quest for priceless momentum is likely to come down to the influence of rival playmakers Ronan O'Gara and Jonny Wilkinson. Veterans of the international stage, both have bags of big match experience and power-packed forwards at their disposal with the latter's ability to dominate the key to which No.10 dictates this game with boot and ball.
Trivia: Ireland's Keith Earls moves to outside centre from the left wing, and in his last five Test appearances has now played in three different positions - but never in the same position twice running.
Stats: England wing Chris Ashton boasts an impressive nine tries from his 12 Test match appearances.
"I believe we'll get into our stride now, but there are a few bits of the jigsaw that must come together and that's what we're trying to achieve."
"I just run hard at defenders and try to break them down. It is simple but it's effective really."
Prediction: England were bullied on their last visit to Dublin and will be determined to make sure that does not happen again. Expect the visitors to front up and Wilkinson's boot to decide a narrow yet telling contest.
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