England prepare for ferocious Six Nations decider

Ireland are narrow favourites, but England will fight hard to maintain their unbeaten run

Alex Goode passes during England training session
(Image credit: 2015 Getty Images)

England's rugby players had a day off on Thursday, resting their bodies before what promises to be a full-blooded battle against Ireland on Sunday.

Already billed in some quarters as the Grand Slam decider, the showdown in Dublin brings together the only two unbeaten teams in this season's Six Nations.

"I don't think guys need much motivation for this game," said England captain Chris Robshaw on Thursday. "It's going to be built up, it's going to be exciting. Two great teams going at it."

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Ireland began with a stuttering win in Rome before seeing off the French a fortnight ago in a match of bone-shaking intensity. England, on the other hand, conquered the Welsh in Cardiff on the opening day of the tournament and then hammered Italy at Twickenham.

The winners of Sunday's contest will almost certainly go on to win the Six Nations but the 80 minutes in Dublin will also tell us just how close both teams are to being credible World Cup contenders.

Ireland are favourites, just, and only because of home advantage. They haven't been beaten in Dublin for more than a year, not since the All Blacks edged them out 24-22 in November 2013, a seven-match winning streak that England will have to work hard to bring to an end.

But in England's favour is the fact they have won the last three Six Nations encounters against Ireland, including a 12-6 victory at Dublin in 2013.

Then there's also the memory of that steely win in Cardiff three weeks ago, a victory forged in the red-hot cauldron of the Millennium Stadium on a Friday night, not a place for the faint-hearted.

It will be another highly physical clash on Sunday but Andy Farrell, England's backs coach, believes his boys are up to the challenge: "We have enough enforcers in the side to make our stamp on the game," he declared. "We are fine as far as aggression is concerned, don't worry about that. Aggression is great within individuals but it is the balance throughout the team that is important."

England, ravaged by injuries before the tournament, have emerged relatively unscathed from the opening two matches, with full-back Mike Brown the only casualty. Ruled out with concussion, Brown's place is taken by Saracens' Alex Goode, a player described by Farrell as "a perfect fit" in the No15 shirt.

The only other expected change when England name their starting XV later today is likely to see Exeter's Jack Nowell preferred to Jonny May on the left wing.

For Ireland, there will be the major absence on Sunday of No8 Jamie Heaslip, the victim of a brutal knee in the back by France's Pascal Pape a fortnight ago, an act of thuggery that saw the Frenchman banned for ten weeks.

The loss of Heaslip with damaged vertebrae weakens their scrum and deprives the home side of one of their hard men. Not that Ireland are short of tough characters, nor for that matter are England, although one of their most bellicose characters, hooker Dylan Hartley, is also known for his short fuse.

In his time Hartley has been punished for eye-gouging, biting, elbowing and swearing at the referee, but the 28-year-old promises to be combative but controlled in Dublin. "There's a fine line and cards seem to find their way to me," said Hartley earlier in the week. "I'm well aware of that before I take the field. I understand what the perception of me is. Whenever I can, I change that."

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.