Andy Farrell says Ireland are braced for ‘one hell of a battle’ against England

In-form Ireland are odds-on favourites for victory in south-west London

Ed Elliot
Thursday 07 March 2024 18:00 GMT
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has turned his attention to England (Brian Lawless/PA)
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has turned his attention to England (Brian Lawless/PA) (PA Wire)

Ireland boss Andy Farrell insists under-fire England remain capable of representing one of the ultimate tests in world rugby ahead of a tantalising Twickenham showdown.

Farrell’s in-form side are odds-on favourites for a fifth successive victory over their rivals to stay on course for back-to-back Guinness Six Nations Grand Slams following bonus-point wins over France, Italy and Wales.

Amid ongoing criticism of their performances, Steve Borthwick’s hosts are battling to stay in title contention after suffering a 30-21 Calcutta Cup defeat to Scotland last time out.

Englishman Farrell has little interest in the negativity surrounding his native country and is preparing for “one hell of a battle” on Saturday.

“I’ve no doubt that England would have loved to have put the best performance out against Scotland and come away with the victory there,” he said.

“But I’ve no doubt now that over the last two weeks that concentrates their mind to have another chance to have a crack at us.

“You expect them to be at their best and if they’re at their best you expect them to be as hard as anyone in world rugby to beat.”

England were two minutes away from reaching the World Cup final in October but have struggled to fully convince since Borthwick succeeded Eddie Jones in December 2022.

“I don’t get involved with the criticism at all,” continued Farrell. “I don’t look at it.

“I look at the individuals the way that they’re playing, the coaching staff that they got, the plan that they’ve got, a fantastic side that is going to be preparing to give it everything they’ve got at the weekend, so that makes them unbelievably dangerous.

“We just prepare for them to be at their best and if that’s the case it’s going to be one hell of a battle.”

  • England 24-12 Ireland (2020 Six Nations)
  • England 18-7 Ireland (2020 Autumn Nations Cup)
  • Ireland 32-18 England (2021 Six Nations)
  • England 15-32 Ireland (2022 Six Nations)
  • Ireland 29-16 England (2023 Six Nations)
  • Ireland 29-10 England (2023 World Cup warm-up)

Ireland twice lost to Jones’ England in 2020 – the first year of Farrell’s reign – but have since dominated the fixture, including clinching last year’s championship clean sweep with a 29-16 success in Dublin.

Extending the winning streak could see the visitors retain their crown with a fixture to spare.

While Farrell was not entirely satisfied with his side’s performances in their last two Six Nations wins over the Red Rose, he refused to rule out another fragmented affair this weekend.

“I’m not Mystic Meg, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he replied, when asked if he was confident of avoiding a repeat of the disjointed displays.

“You take every game on it’s own course really and judge it and England did very well at slowing us down last year.

“There were a lot of stoppages within the game and it wasn’t just errors, the game was slow.

“Whether that’s a tactic of theirs or not, I don’t know, but we’ll have to expect more of the same I would have thought.”

Farrell won eight England caps during his playing days and later served his country as a coach under Stuart Lancaster before being let go by Jones following a dismal home World Cup in 2015.

The former dual-code international dismissed any notion of sentiment as he prepares for his latest Twickenham return.

“It’s no different to any other game,” said Farrell, who has recalled fit-again full-back Hugo Keenan in place of Ciaran Frawley in the only change to his starting XV.

“We, and certainly I, concentrate on the week ahead and this game is no more important than the first game in Marseille or no more important than the Italy game or the Wales game at home.

“It’s another chance for us to go out there and show the best of ourselves, albeit a tough old task.

“Everyone knows it’s a tough place to go and get a victory. But that’s the challenge in front of us every week.”

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