Six Nations 2023: Ireland take on injured England for a historic Grand Slam
|Place: Aviva Stadium, Dublin Date: Saturday March 18 To start up: 17:00 GMT|
|Blanket: Listen on BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Radio Ulster; follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app|
The 2023 Six Nations have reached what promises to be a thrilling climax as Grand Slam-hunting Ireland welcome injured England to Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
Saturday’s tournament at the Aviva Stadium could be a milestone in Ireland’s journey under Andy Farrell.
Entering the competition as world no.
After a momentous 2022 that included a Test Series triumph over the All Blacks in New Zealand, a Six Nations sweep would be the ultimate statement six months away from the World Cup in France.
England is in another boat. With their title hopes ruthlessly crushed by a rampaging France at Twickenham last week, Steve Borthwick’s side arrive in Dublin with two main aims: restore pride and spoil the Irish party.
England aren’t the only team wanting to rain down on the Irish parade, of course, as France can still retain their title. To stand a chance, however, The Blues must beat Wales in Paris (14:45 GMT) before Ireland and England entered the pitch at Lansdowne Road.
‘Super Saturday’ opens with Scotland host Italy at Murrayfield (12:30 GMT), live on BBC One.
“Despair is a disease”
Ireland handled everything the Six Nations threw at them, from losing key players to injury to winning when they weren’t at their best.
Ireland’s most impressive display came against France in Dublin in the second round when Farrell’s men lost 32-19 winners in an epic battle between the world’s two best sides.
Beating the defending champions seemed huge, but defeating England to hand Dublin a Grand Slam for the first time brings even greater pressure, and Farrell called on his players to be calm amid the “circus”.
“Whatever you (the media) are going to write, it’s all part of the circus, you know, handling it all,” he said.
“But really, anyone who’s ever played in a big game, when you cross that white line, all bets are off. It’s business time, isn’t it?
“All the emotion goes away after the first five minutes anyway and then you have to be at your best.
“For me, despair is a disease. You want to try to stay away from that.
“You can’t be precise if you’re desperate. Being calm enough to be yourself and being controlled enough to be precise when it matters is a temperament we all seek.”
England want to make amends for Twickenham humiliation
Even without a title shot, this is an important game for an England side keen to quell the pain of their worst home defeat in 113 years of Test rugby against France last week.
For Borthwick, who replaced Eddie Jones as head coach in December, Saturday represents an opportunity to get England back on track in the final tournament before the World Cup.
It will be a big ask, however, given Ireland have won their last 13 home Tests.
“We know that after the bitter disappointment of the display against an exceptional French team, we will have to improve to meet the challenge of facing the world number one ranked team,” said Borthwick.
“However, I saw an England side determined to make amends for the defeat at Twickenham.
“I’m confident the announced squad will want to once again show the kind of resilience and attitude that brought us victory in Wales.”
What the experts say
Former England scrum-half Danny Care on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Rugby Union Daily podcast: “You can make mistakes like decision-making or the execution of skills, which you can forgive, but what’s non-negotiable in rugby and especially when you’re wearing an English shirt is that you don’t don’t give up.
“I don’t think you’ll see an attitude problem from England this weekend. The players and the coaches won’t let that happen.
“I think Ireland will win but you will see a more combative performance from England.”
Former Irish and British Lions Wing and Irish Shane Horgan: “Ireland are extremely confident and very relaxed about their ability to deliver a performance.
“That trust was built over a long period of time. They won a tour of New Zealand, they beat every team in the southern hemisphere and against France, Ireland really dominated.
“They are sure of their abilities and they don’t look over their shoulders.”
Sexton vs. Farrell
As always, Ireland and England’s performances will be dictated by their fly-halfs, around which there has been a mixed narrative in recent weeks.
It builds like Johnny Sexton’s big day. This is the Irish captain’s last Six Nations game and he can secure his place in Irish sporting history by becoming the first skipper to win a Grand Slam in Dublin.
He also needs just one point to surpass his predecessor Ronan O’Gara as the Six Nations’ leading scorer.
On the other hand, England fly-half Owen Farrell – the son of Ireland head coach Andy – is looking to redeem himself after being dropped for Marcus Smith in the loss to France.
Ireland: Keenan; Hansen, Henshaw, Aki, Lowe; Sexton (captain), Gibson-Park; Porter, Sheehan, Furlong; Baird, Ryan; O’Mahony, van der Flier, Doris.
Replacements: Herring, Healy, O’Toole, Treadwell, Conan, Murray, R Byrne, O’Brien.
England: Steward; Watson, Slade, Tuilagi, Arundell; Farrell (c), Van Poortvliet; Genge, George, Sinckler, Itoje, Ribbans, Ludlam, Willis, Dombrandt.
Replacements: Walker, M Vunipola, Cole, Isiekwe, B Curry, Mitchell, Smith, Marchant.