Ireland have already played their joker by ending New Zealand’s world record winning streak, and the added carrot of a Grand Slam will ensure that England will not slip up in Dublin on Saturday evening despite history suggesting otherwise, says Ben Youngs.
The scrum-half was a baby-faced rookie when England left the Aviva Stadium six years ago on the back of a deflating 24-8 defeat that saw the Six Nations Grand Slam go begging, and despite securing the title regardless, they have not forgotten that sinking feeling.
Now though, England stand on the brink of history, with the chance to secure back-to-back Grand Slams added to by the prospect of breaking New Zealand’s 18-match winning run. Ireland will be no easy task though, and just like in 2011, they proved last October that when the odds are stacked against them, they have enough in the locker to produce a world class performance few can match.
That occasion saw the Irish produce an inspired display in Chicago to beat the All Blacks 40-29, ending their unbeaten run in the process, but Youngs does not believe that it is a sign of something similar to come this weekend, and instead feels that Joe Schmidt’s side have already given up their hand.
“That was a one-off game in Chicago,” Youngs said. “Our motivation is that we have a chance to win a grand slam. I don't know what New Zealand's reasons were but Ireland played very well. It gives us that awareness of what they're capable of. That just reinforces the mind and makes sure we're right on it. We know what they're capable of.
“They took New Zealand in Chicago and it's a well-publicised message to us that they're a side who are more than capable of getting results.”
But while that New Zealand side may have come unstuck in the exhibition-like atmosphere of Soldier Field, Youngs believes England’s determination to keep them on the right path – the one towards “greatness” as head coach Eddie Jones has preached – will motivate them in different ways than the All Blacks were.
“I think that’s the key that you’ve got to embrace it,” Youngs adds on the chance to become a ‘great’ team. “Eddie spoke really well when he addressed the side on Sunday evening about that chance to make that step. One of the things was that chance to go back-to-back Grand Slams will probably never happen, potentially, for any of us again. So why waste that opportunity?
Six Nations team of the weekend - round four
Six Nations team of the weekend - round four
1/15 15. Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
The full-back flourished in bringing George North into the game as he repeatedly joined the back line to give Wales an extra man in attack. He tackled well, with a memorable stop on Rob Kearney halting an Irish attack in full flow. Has put himself back into the running for the Lions berth.
2/15 14. George North (Wales)
Back to his devastating best with two tries this week. His first was a brutal display of power as he carried both Simon Zebo and Keith Earls over the try line to score, while his second was the result of a great drive from the Welsh pack. A mazy run towards the end of the victory over Ireland triggered one last attack as his side searched in vain for the bonus point.
3/15 13. Jonathan Joseph (England)
A brilliant performance provided a timely reminder of what he is capable of. Three tries, each of differing styles, paved the way for England’s stunning 61-21 victory over Scotland. The first try saw Joseph display his pace and power, the second one came from dazzling footwork and the third saw him cut a lovely inside line to break cleanly from short range.
4/15 12. Owen Farrell (England)
After his horror show against Italy, Farrell was back to his best again to convert all but one of his kicks at goal – the one he missed was from his own half – and he was much smarter with his kicking to touch following the errors that littered his display a fortnight ago. Brought Joseph into the attack superbly, and finished the game at 10 once more.
5/15 11. Virimi Vakatawa (France)
A great week for the French wing as he scored a devastating try that put Italy out of the game and racked up more metres than anyone else this week, making an average of more than 10m per break. He beat eight defenders and made four clean breaks, and provided a display that proved just what a dangerous open-field runner he can be.
6/15 10. George Ford (England)
Ford was able to take the fight to Scotland with the pack providing him with front-foot ball to work with. The fly-half linked up superbly with Farrell outside him, and also brought his three-quarters into the game with devastating results.
7/15 9. Rhys Webb (Wales)
A strong performance from Webb saw him create the first try for North with a smart supporting run to take an offload from Scott Williams and release a beautiful wide pass for Halfpenny to run on to. He was alert in defence and got the better of Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray in their battle for the Lions No 9 shirt.
8/15 1. Rob Evans (Wales)
A strong performance from the loosehead against an Irish scrum that until now had gotten the better of all its opponents. Carried multiple times, albeit with little success, but that took its toll on the Irish defence as it tired.
9/15 2. Guilhem Guirado (France)
The standout hooker this week as the French captain led by example, making an impressive 31 metres with the ball in hand and 11 tackles in defence, not to mention sealing a turnover in the process.
10/15 3. Rabah Slimani (France)
Joins his skipper in the front row after displacing Uini Atonio in the side and delivering much better performances. An impressive showing in the loose.
11/15 4. Joe Launchbury (England)
A candidate for player of the tournament. Launchbury has excelled on his return to the Test fold, and he once again led by example as he made a phenomenal 22 tackles against Scotland, as well as enjoying success with the ball in hand.
12/15 5. Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)
Return to form this week as he put his body on the line, making 18 tackles and 14 carries. He also disrupted the Irish lineout, stealing one throw on his own 5m line, but his best performance came in terms of his decision-making as he got all the big calls right.
13/15 6. Sam Warburton (Wales)
A brilliant performance in defence saw Warburton set the tone for Wales’s physical dominance over Ireland. He made more tackles than anyone else on the pitch in Cardiff, and he looks to be suited to not having the burden of the captaincy hanging over him.
14/15 7. Kevin Gourdon (France)
France have found their natural replacement for Thierry Dusautoir as Gourdon once again displayed his talents in the win over Italy. He carried well for more than 50 metres, and did his job in defence to slow down the Italian attack at the breakdown.
15/15 8. Nathan Hughes (England)
Scotland made the mistake of not double-marking him, and he ran riot as a result. The Wasps No 8 appeared to send out a message that the returning Billy Vunipola would not be taking his shirt easily, and made an impressive 74 metres from 11 carries.
“He said the last thing we want to do is use that as a negative thing and hold us back in any way, shape or form. All this week has been about attacking it, embracing it, and getting excited about it. You know, our motivation is huge. We’ve got a chance to win back to back Grand Slams. A chance, as Eddie put it, to put ourselves as a team that people potentially see as a great side. That’s enormous motivation.
“I see our motivation and desire to win the game as probably higher than Ireland’s potentially. Because we have got so much to win. We’ve got to be excited by that and embrace it.
“From our point of view, why focus on two things when we can focus on one? Focus on winning the Grand Slam and the record comes with it. Focus on both and you're thinking about two things when you could be just thinking about one and putting all your thoughts into that. Then both comes with it anyway.”Reuse content