Rugby Union: Very warm welcome promised by Ireland

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The Independent Online
Brian Ashton's purist approach to rugby is beginning to rub off on the Irish. The eternal underdogs are not simply promising chaos when they go toe-to-toe with England in Dublin tomorrow, they are promising "pur chaos."

At least, that is how they intend to start. "It would be remiss of us not to give England a traditional fire and fury welcome," grinned Ashton, four weeks into his post as Ireland's coaching adviser and enjoying every minute of it. By way of emphasis, his view was backed by Jim Staples, the captain. "I think we'll look to make the first few minutes a bit lively," he said.

Away from the role-playing, however, both Ashton and Staples were at pains to point out that Ireland were in a position to play some serious rugby as well as play the mayhem card.

Ashton said: "We've looked very closely at the England side - I know many of them quite intimately from my days at Bath and with two-thirds of the Irish team playing their club rugby in the Courage League, the players know even more about their opponents than I do, but we have not paid them any greater attention than we paid the French or the Welsh. Quite honestly, I'm more interested in the rugby we bring to the table ourselves.

"We've seen two England teams of late: the one that struggled to beat Argentina before Christmas and the one that turned it on in the second half against the Scots a fortnight ago. On that occasion, they showed the rugby of which they are capable if you let them play, but I would say now that the Irish are well able to produce something of similar quality."

The Irish trained in Limerick yesterday and their entire squad was given a clean bill of health. David Corkery, the blind-side flanker from Bristol, and Jonathan Bell, Northampton's gifted centre, both play tomorrow after recovering from hand and rib injuries respectively. Nick Popplewell, the most experienced forward in the home pack, has seen off a pulled hamstring and takes his place in the front row while Paddy Johns, the in-form lock from Saracens, showed no ill effects from a head wound suffered in training on Monday.

Wales will owe a huge debt to their centre Allan Bateman if they tear up the form book by beating France in Paris tomorrow. Bateman missed the defeat against Ireland, having undergone knee cartilage surgery and his absence confirmed just how much Wales need him.

"Allan's return has given us a great boost," the scrum-half, Robert Howley, said. "We missed his variation."

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