England will head into Sunday’s battle with Ireland with the same centre pairing that tore apart Scotland at Twickenham, meaning powerhouse Manu Tuilagi’s return will be restricted to an appearance from the replacements.
Billy Twelvetrees will partner Brad Barritt once again, with the former retaining his starting place after a scintillating debut performance which produced a second half try for the Gloucester youngster. Head coach Stuart Lancaster had been left with a difficult decision ahead of the Dublin game, with fit-again Tuilagi available to strengthen an already attacking back-line.
However, after not having played since January 13, and only returning to training on Tuesday, Lancaster has decided to use the Leicester favourite as an impact-substitute to have maximum effect on Ireland’s tiring defence late in the game. Lancaster wasn’t too concerned that both Tuilagi and Ben Morgan – who suffered an ankle injury in the win over Scotland – will be missing from the starting line-up, despite the two being considered England’s strongest ball carriers.
He said: “We didn’t have Manu last week and we managed to get close to the gain line ok. I think James Haskell, Tom Youngs and Mako Vunipola when he came on did a pretty good job. If you build your game around one or two players only that can carry the ball, then you’re an easy team to defend.
“We made the decision on Manu centred around that he hasn’t played since the 13th of January. To play for 80 minutes at the highest international level is going to be a stretch for anyone that hasn’t played for that amount of time. I’m sure he’ll come on and be a ball carrier for us.”
With Morgan out, Northampton’s Tom Wood switches to number eight with Haskell coming in at blindside flanker, while Tuilagi’s club teammate Thomas Waldrom takes Haskell’s spot on the bench. It is the only change to the side, meaning Tom Youngs retains his role at hooker with him preferred to Saints captain Dylan Hartley.
Lancaster also reflected on Brian O’Driscoll after the Irishman’s performance against Wales last weekend in which he rolled back the years in what was arguably one of his best displays in the Irish shirt.
“When you preview your opposition, you preview their key players, and he’s undoubtedly one of them. The quality of his performance last week and what he brings to the side is incredible really,” said Lancaster. “That said, his forward pack will deliver him the ball and there’s some key players in that pack, and also the half-backs have played exceptionally well.
“Across the board, the spine of their side has got experience and quality running throughout and Brian probably heads it in terms of his experience.”
The clash at Lansdowne Road may well decide who win’s the Grand Slam, with both Wales and France already suffering defeat in their opening fixtures. With Italy the only other undefeated side left in the championship, England must emerge victorious from Dublin if they are to stand any chance of claiming their first Grand Slam in 10 years.