England’s performance against Wales in the last round of games was far from convincing, although they eventually won by 23-19.
So, as they struggled to find consistent fluency, you’d fancy Ireland, by common agreement the second-best side in the tournament, to win on Saturday, even though their record at Twickenham in recent years is rather ordinary..they’ve beaten England only once there since 2010.
The status of this game and its outcome is of so much importance to both countries as England and Ireland must win if they are to keep up the pressure on the French.
As the Six Nations table stands going into this weekend’s matches, France remain top on 14 points with three consecutive wins, Ireland are second on 11 – two victories in three matches – and England are third on 10 points having overcome Italy and the Welsh, but lost to Scotland.
As England have such a strong record at Twickenham, you can see why you’d put money on them to win, but given the explosive power of the Irish forwards – with players such as Tadgh Furlong, Tadgh Beirne, Peter O’Mahony and Jack Conan – Ireland, in what should be a close match, will be favourites.
The battle in the forwards featuring such high-quality stars as England’s Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes should settle the outcome, and if England’s pack win sufficient turn-over ball, fly half Marcus Smith has the ability to produce a match winning performance that will shut up for a while the critics of coach Eddie Jones.
Contest between rival scrum halves is worth watching
Many eyes at Twickenham will be on the half backs wearing the number 10 shirt..for Ireland whether it’s skipper Johnny Sexton or Joey Carbery and in the England jersey Smith, but how scrum halves, Harry Randall, from Bristol, and Jamison Gibson-Park of Leinster, play is also of major interest.
Randall, capped four times, has looked pretty sharp in this his first season in the Six Nations and how his partnership with Smith is developing is one of the most significant issues when you consider next year’s World Cup.
Gibson-Park, a Kiwi, has a quick service from the scrum and ruck and has been impressive, and with backs of the calibre of Andrew Conway, Bundee Aki and Mack Hansen outside him, he should have several attacking opportunities to launch raids on England’s defence.
As Jones builds for the future, and gives international opportunities to younger players who’ve stood out in the Premiership, how, for example, Leicester’s Freddie Steward, picked at full back in recent Tests, and Harlequins number eight, Alex Dombrandt, cope with the pressure of taking on such a strong team as Ireland’s, will be an issue that England’s coach needs answering.
Saturday’s international is obviously not just about the players of England and Ireland – it’s also a test for Jones and his Irish opposite number, Andy Farrell, who’s been in charge since the end of the 2019 World Cup.
With so much at stake for both nations, the decisions both take, not least when it comes to replacements, makes the Twickenham game as fascinating as it’s unpredictable.