England could head into the Rugby World Cup later this month off the back of two dispiriting victories if they don’t overcome the challenge of Ireland this weekend.
The final World Cup warm-up sees the reigning Six Nations champions come to Twickenham to finalise preparations for the global tournament, which kicks off with England vs Fiji on 18 September. With England head coach Stuart Lancaster having confirmed his final 31-man squad, the battle is on to make his starting XV, with a number of places still up for grab.
The last match at HQ saw England run out 10-14 victors over France three weeks ago, but the return fixture in Paris saw Lancaster’s side completely dominated in a 25-20 defeat, a result that did not reflect the dominance that Les Blues enjoyed in both the scrum and lineout.
A number of players who had appeared to be shoe-ins for a starting berth against Fiji now need to put in a shift against the Irish due to the defeat across the Channel.
England: Mike Brown; Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Brad Barritt, Jonny May; George Ford, Ben Youngs; Joe Marler, Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Courtney Lawes, Geoff Parling, Tom Wood, Chris Robshaw, Ben Morgan.
Replacements: Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Kieran Brookes, Joe Launchbury, Billy Vunipola, Richard Wigglesworth, Owen Farrell, Sam Burgess.
Ireland: Simon Zebo; Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Dave Kearney; Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Jack McGrath, Rory Best, Mike Ross; Devin Toner, Paul O'Connell; Peter O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacement: Richardt Strauss, Tadhg Furlong, Nathan White, Donnacha Ryan, Chris Henry, Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan, Darren Cave.
What time does it start?
The match kicks off on Saturday at 2.30pm at Twickenham Stadium.
Who needs to perform?
A number of the England pack nearly played themselves out of contention two weeks’ ago. The front-row of Joe Marler, Tom Youngs and Dan Cole needs to impress at the set-piece, and with Dylan Hartley’s reliable throwing unavailable due to suspension, Youngs needs to prove that his lineout abilities aren’t as inconsistent as people are starting to fear.
Geoff Parling has been given a chance to cement his place in the line-up at the expense of Joe Launchbury in a bid to offer England more control in the air, while James Haskell – England’s only shining light in the pack two weeks ago – finds himself ousted as Tom Wood returns to the side. England desperately need one of their two No 8s to put their hand up for selection after Billy Vunipola’s nightmare in Paris, so Ben Morgan is given another chance to impress as he continues his comeback from a broken leg.
Behind the scrum, Lancaster recalls fit-again Brad Barritt with Sam Burgess named among the replacements, and Anthony Watson returns to the wing in what is shaping up to be England’s starting back-three formation alongside Mike Brown and Jonny May.
The dangermen for Ireland
As England struggle among their front eight, Ireland will arrive in London with one of the strongest in world rugby. Ranked No 2 in the world, The likes of Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien and Paul O’Connell will pose the home side a stiff test at the lineout and in the loose. England will hope to hold an advantage in the scrum, so the pressure may fall on the front-three of Jack McGrath, Rory Best and Mike Ross to match the standout names behind them.
In Jonathan Sexton, Ireland possess arguably the finest fly-half in the Northern Hemisphere, and the options outside him at his disposal will ensure that England’s midfield remain busy all afternoon.
Robbie Henshaw emerged as star in the making last season, while the attacking flair of Tommy Bowe and Simon Zebo – deployed at full-back – will give Ireland talent out wide that will test the supposed weak defensive skills of May.
Where can I watch it?
The match will be screened live on Sky Sports 1 at 2pm.
Last three meetings
Ireland 19 (Henshaw), England 9, Six Nations, March 2015.
England 13 (Care), Ireland 10 (R Kearney), Six Nations, February 2014.
Ireland 6, England 12, Six Nations, February 2013.Reuse content