Rory Best stokes the flames by insisting Ireland have more to play for than just denying England the Grand Slam

The Ireland captain believes the pride of Ireland, playing at home the day after St Patrick's Day, makes victory more important that denying England the Grand Slam

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Six weeks ago, before the Six Nations began, Eddie Jones was asked if he had one eye on a Grand Slam shootout against Ireland. He immediately dismissed the question, insisting that he would not look beyond the curtain-raising encounter against France because Dublin was a long way off.

With each week came the change of focus. First Wales, then Italy – that proved a tricky one – before Scotland were batted aside in the most brutal of fashions. And now we’re here, in Dublin, where England have the chance to win the Grand Slam for the second year running. The only surprise is that Ireland do not.

Jones may have exaggerated this week when he said "I've read all your predictions and Ireland were favourites”, but he is right in noting that they were expected to at least be challenging for the title, if not the Grand Slam. But the opening weekend defeat by Scotland ended the Slam hopes early, and last Friday’s loss to Wales confirmed the end of their title challenge once England had seen off the Scots.

But Ireland are not a team in crisis. Nor are they a team that cannot realistically beat England on Saturday, and nor will they conform to Jones’s claim that they have “no fear of failure”. Lose to England on any weekend and there will be a sense of failure, but lose to them on the festival that is St Patrick’s Day weekend, and they don’t come much more dispiriting than that. Throw in the added caveat that, should England win on Saturday, the players will have to watch Dylan Hartley lift the Six Nations trophy, the Triple Crown and the Millennium Trophy – the under-the-radar trophy competed for by Ireland and England – then you have the perfect cocktail for an Irish hangover.

“I think we take too much pride in our performance to worry (about that),” said Ireland captain Rory Best on the eve of the match. “We're well aware of what England are going for tomorrow, but for us  I suppose it's St Paddy's weekend, we're at home and we have a very proud record at home as well, and we take huge confidence from that.

 “So we have focused on how to beat England, we haven't focused on the reasons why we'll beat them.

“We'll beat England because we're pulling on a green jersey, because we're at home and we expect probably a better, more consistent performance over the 80 minutes than we've delivered so far in this championship.”

The hangovers of those watching inside the Aviva Stadium may not be as bad as feared, given many chose not to risk the extreme weather the battered Dublin on Friday night, but the rain is due to clear by the time kick-off comes about. That should encourage both teams to play exciting rugby, with Ireland vs England encounters rarely failing to live up to the pre-match hype that surrounds them.

Yet the conditions could play a massive part in the outcome of the match. England are expecting plenty of towering kicks from Irish fly-half Jonathan Sexton, and with the wind still set to be battering the Irish capital, both Mike Brown and his opposite full-back, Jared Payne, could face a tricky time under the high ball. It could come down to the smallest of influences that decides the match, and Best is the first to admit that those influences aren’t always physical in a game of this magnitude.

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Best denied Jones's claim that Ireland have 'nothing to fear' by insisting they still have plenty to play for (Getty)

"Look, I think big games always require a massive physical effort obviously, but it requires real, real mental strength because it's going to come down to fine margins,” the Ireland captain said. “A lot of it is the team which makes the fewest mistakes will win. The team that have the mental fortitude and courage to go out and take those opportunities when they are there will also win so from that side of things it does take a massive one.

“They're playing for a Grand Slam, but we've got a home record we want to keep intact. We're back in front of our home fans. There has been a lot made about this game so there is pressure on from that side for us. Ultimately we want to finish with a massive result. I don't think that their want is any more than ours."

The key for Ireland, as Sexton put it on Thursday, is to produce those massive results on a consistent basis. If Ireland can find a way to spoil the party and leave the rugby world stunned once again, they can genuinely start to build around a side that can rival the best on the world. And England? They would be back to the drawing board, and that’s not a place where Eddie Jones wants to be come Saturday night.

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