Ireland v England: Stage set for a Grand Six Nations finale

Published date18 March 2023
Publication titleIrish Times: Web Edition Articles (Dublin, Ireland)
Maybe some documentary producer planned it all. Ireland to host England in the final game of Super Saturday, on St Patrick's Day weekend, seeking a Grand Slam coronation in Dublin for the first time 128 years, against England, in Johnny Sexton's last Six Nations game. Are we missing anything? Oh yes, it's the World Player of the Year's 50th cap

This was how it looked like it would pan out if all went to form from the outset and so it has come to pass, a script so ridiculously unique that, with Ireland 1-10 favourites (which must be a first as well), scaling the final hurdle after the 18-10 win in Cheltenham seems almost to be uncomfortably, nay unnervingly, perfect.

The pressure of delivering a Grand Slam? You could reach out and bite it on that taut evening in Cardiff in 2009 and no wonder, for no Irish team had won a Slam in 61 years. So tried and trusted were they in their methods under Joe Schmidt that it never felt like there was the same level of pressure at Twickenham in 2018. But that applies even more so with Andy Farrell's team.

Some sides on a roll of 21 wins in 23 matches might become a tad over-confident, but Ireland's rise to the top of the world rankings and the landmark wins among that run is partly based upon their humility.

"One of the biggest things for me is the humbleness of the players," said attack coach Mike Catt, widening his eyes as to emphasise the point.

"It's unbelievable. They are such hard workers, genuinely hard workers. All they want to do is please. Whether it's uniting the nation or whether it's their family, or themselves, or whatever, they work hard, are very diligent and it means a hell of a lot to them."

They'll also fully respect England, for England are as wounded as they've ever been coming to Dublin.

Thus far under the new Steve Borthwick regime, England have been like a team floundering around for a sense of identity. On foot of losing to Scotland they flipped from a Marcus Smith-Owen Farrell 10-12 axis to a Farrell-Ollie Lawrence combination for the wins over Italy and Wales by reverting to a very Borthwick-esque kicking game.

Whereupon, very surprisingly, he flipped again, restoring Smith with Lawrence and leaving Farrell on the bench while making Ellis Genge his captain. The fault lines ran way deeper than this axis but reuniting Farrell and Tuilagi with Henry Slade for the first time since the World Cup, and the trio who did serious damage in England's win here four years ago, looks like a statement of...

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