Ireland and England set for Dublin showdown
February 8, 2013
England's front row celebrate a penalty try during their demolition of Ireland at Twickenham last year © Getty Images
Ireland and England will attempt to keep their Six Nations Grand Slam dreams alive when they go head-to-head at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday.
Head to Head
The hosts kicked off their championship campaign with a thrilling 33-20 victory over Wales with an outstanding performance from Brian O'Driscoll and some fancy footwork from Simon Zebo the highlights of an enthralling game. England also turned on the style in despatching Scotland 38-18 with an all-action approach propelling them to a convincing victory.
These two sides meet for the first time since England crushed their Irish rivals at Twickenham in last year's Six Nations and Stuart Lancaster's side will enter the game as marginal favourites but they have not won a championship clash in Dublin since 2003. The Irish always seem to conjure something extra for the visit of their historic foes - most recently gate-crashing England's Grand Slam party in 2011.
The game is also set to double as a key British & Irish Lions trial with many leading contenders set to face off including playmakers Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell under the watchful eye of coach Warren Gatland.
Ireland - Player to Watch: Jonathan Sexton is favourite to pull on the British & Irish Lions' No.10 jersey and will be keen to lay down another significant marker against one of his main rivals for that honour.
Ireland - Team News: Ireland have named an unchanged after centre Gordon D'Arcy recovered from the dead leg he sustained against Wales and flanker Peter O'Mahony was given the all-clear after suffering concussion in the same match. Centre Brian O'Driscoll, flanker Sean O'Brien, fullback Rob Kearney and prop Mike Ross have also shrugged off knocks they picked up in what was a bruising Millennium Stadium encounter. Substitute centre Keith Earls takes his place on an unchanged replacements bench after damaging his shoulder against Wales.
England - Player to Watch: Dan Cole has been at the heart of England's resurgence but will face a tough battle at scrum-time against a future Lions team-mate - Ireland's Cian Healy.
England - Team News: James Haskell has been recalled to the starting line-up for the first time since last year's tour to South Africa following an injury to No.8 Ben Morgan. Haskell will pack down at blindside flanker with Tom Wood moving to the back of the scrum to fill the void left by Morgan. A fit-again Manu Tuilagi has to settle for a place on the bench where he is joined by Leicester team-mate Thomas Waldrom in the only other change to the matchday squad.
Key Battle: The England pack delighted in their destruction of their Irish counterparts at Twickenham last year and the memory of that mauling is sure to fire up the hosts on Sunday. England have kicked on since then as has the Irish set-piece - the question is whether they have improved enough and learnt their lessons from that painful day.
Trivia: Brian O'Driscoll has faced England 11 times since 2000 and been on the winning side on eight of those occasions. Coming into this game he is riding a run of seven straight victories
Stats: The recalled James Haskell is the most-capped player in the England starting line-up with 46 international appearances to his name.
Betting: Do you think that Ireland will come out firing as they did in Cardiff? Best365 are offering 6/1 for Ireland to open the scoring with a try. If you fancy England to notch a rare Six Nations win in Dublin you may be tempted by 15/2 on offer for an away win between 11-15 points.
"If you start thinking about retirement in six months time you're already there. I just want to concentrate on my rugby and enjoy it and live in the moment."
"I haven't got a beard anymore and have a bit of stubble because it apparently makes you go faster. So, we will see on Sunday whether I will be skinning Brian O'Driscoll on the outside."
Prediction: Expect a titanic tussle with the odd bit of magic propelling England to a rare Six Nations win in Dublin - but it will not come easy.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September