Ireland vs England preview: Time for Alex Goode to pay back Stuart Lancaster

Test for replacement full-back in today’s tactical clash in Dublin

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The Independent Online

Two teams locked together in both the Six Nations table and the world rankings make this afternoon’s  deliciously tense prospect in Dublin so much more than just a tale of two England full-backs, the concussed Mike Brown having been replaced by Alex Goode for the Saracen’s first start in 20 Tests since March 2013. Count in the entire supporting cast, and Ireland versus England at a sold-out Aviva Stadium is stuffed full of subplots – but if full-backs are your thing, there are surely more of them scattered throughout the line-ups than in any Test in history.

For starters, England chose to  recall Goode to cover for the loss of Brown, rather than switch Bath’s regular No 15 Anthony Watson from the wing. Meanwhile, Ireland’s full-back Rob Kearney has stirred worrying memories in England coach Stuart Lancaster of the try the Leinsterman scored at Twickenham last year. Not because it was Ireland’s only try past Lancaster’s England in the three meetings from 2012 to date, but because the Red Rose supremo says he  respects his counterpart Joe Schmidt as much for the “scripted play” and powerful driving maul as he does for the kicking game led by Johnny Sexton that has pervaded much of the pre-match chat. “Ireland caught us out last year,” Lancaster said of the score by Kearney, when the two-tour Lion latched on to Jamie Heaslip’s  inside pass from a midfield ruck.

 

The No 8 Heaslip is absent this time, having taken a wounding knee in the back from Pascal Pape during the  18-11 win over France two weeks ago.

Ireland and England stand second and first respectively in the Six Nations table, separated by points difference, and fourth and third by a tiny margin in the world rankings. Ireland will reverse both positions if they win. And as such, it feels like a genuine World Cup pointer. Jordi Murphy for Heaslip, and Goode for Brown, are the only changes among the starters of the two teams.

The last time Goode clapped eyes on Jared Payne, the some-time  Ulster full-back charged with filling the retired Brian O’Driscoll’s old role in Ireland’s centres, was from a painfully prone position in a Heineken Cup quarter-final in Belfast last April. Payne’s clumsy challenge earned him a red card, and the aerial battle waged in chasing kick-offs and garryowens remains a “hot topic”, to use Payne’s phrase.

“You’ve got to be pretty smart with it now,” Payne said. “Even if you jump, maybe you don’t jump high enough so you can get yourself in trouble. If you’re only 60 or 70 per cent sure that you can really get up, you don’t want to take the risk of getting red-carded. Be smart and if you commit, fully commit.”

England centre Luther Burrell takes a positive view. “You can’t just have that dead space and not challenge for the ball as then it becomes dangerous,” he said. “Two players jumping is much safer than one or the other not jumping.” And Lancaster conceded: “When you are playing against an Ireland back line that has Tommy Bowe and Simon Zebo, both of whom have been 15s, Rob Kearney, who is excellent in the air, and two centres [Payne and Robbie Henshaw] who are both 15s as well, there is going to be an aerial challenge.”

All these full-backs may suggest two teams preparing to rock on their defensive heels, but who is going to put them there? There is power in Ireland’s tight forwards but England can match them. Two years ago in Dublin, Owen Farrell belted the ball through the rain and England shut the Irish down. Schmidt and Sexton will have been burning early-hours oil to find new ways through.

Payne revealed that Ireland had used the Munster dasher Keith Earls in training as a double for England’s Jonathan Joseph, who has three tries in two matches, including a pretty special “scripted play” of England’s own to slice Italy asunder.

“Earls has got a good sidestep so we did a bit of work with him,” said Payne. “Jonathan’s pretty special right now, he’s playing well in his partnership with [fly-half] George Ford, and Luther’s pretty good right now, so we have to be on our toes.”

If Joseph can be freed to unleash his pace again, England are likely to be wreathed in smiles of victory.

Ireland’s last 12 months

Ireland have won every match since losing to England in last year’s Six Nations Championship:

Ireland 46 Italy 7 (8 March 2014, Six Nations)

France 20 Ireland 22 (15 March 2014, Six Nations)

Argentina 17 Ireland 29 (7 June 2014)

Argentina 17 Ireland 23  (14 June 2014)

Ireland 29 South Africa 15 (8 November 2014)

Ireland 49 Georgia 7 (16 Nov 2014)

Ireland 26 Australia 23 (22 November 2014)

Italy 3 Ireland 26 (7 February 2015, Six Nations)

Ireland 18 France 11 (14 February 2015, Six Nations)

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