Sunday 18 March 2018

Free-flowing Irish to lift cloud by raiding London

THE verdict on a good or bad Six Nations championship has come down to this. Neither can win a Grand Slam or a title. Both can restore faith that there are better days ahead.

The greater pressure weighs on England coach Stuart Lancaster, rather than Ireland's Declan Kidney. The English have over-achieved from what was expected to this point.

In fact, they have progressed so quickly, so impressively that Lancaster must be considered as a realistic candidate to become the full-time coach.

The problem for Lancaster is that the high and not-so-almighty Rugby Football Union want a bigger name on whom to hand their long-term goal of winning the 2015 World Cup.

This is an approach that does not always work in sport. Look at the medal-ladened Fabio Capello. Look at the legendary former player Martin Johnson.

Lancaster is a coach through and through. He is an honourable man, living out his dream to lead his country. A second win in nine Six Nations attempts would possibly make the dream a real live possibility.

Ireland's Kidney does not have to concern himself with such a pressure cooker environment. He had his contract extended before the 2011 World Cup in typical Irish style.

Since then, the Grand Slam was taken away on day one, the first win in Paris since 2000 taken away in the second-half when an 11-point lead was surrendered.

This Irish side is improving through the championship, scoring the most tries, containing the highest try-scorer in Tommy Bowe and playing to a level expected, no more, no less.

A victory in London without Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell would remove the cloud that hangs over Ireland every time one or both are not involved.

It is time for them to stand on their own feet. They know that. Beating Scotland at home without both is one thing, England in Twickenham something else entirely.

Verdict: Ireland

England: B Foden; C Ashton, M Tuilagi, B Barritt, D Strettle; O Farrell, L Dickson; A Corbisiero, D Hartley, D Cole, M Botha, G Parling, T Croft, C Robshaw (capt), B Morgan.

Ireland: R Kearney; T Bowe, K Earls, G D'Arcy, A Trimble; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, R Best (capt), M Ross, D O'Callaghan, D Ryan, S Ferris, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.

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