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Sunday 17 December 2017

Ireland can make it ten on the spin

Ireland's Sean O'Brien, left, and Tommy O'Donnell in action during squad training
Ireland's Sean O'Brien, left, and Tommy O'Donnell in action during squad training

Everyone out in Carton House would have you believe this is an international like any other.

No one lives in a bubble that is untouched by the outside world.

Ireland have won their last nine tests to put them one behind Eddie O'Sullivan's band of warriors back in 2003.

The fact they have lost their last four to England will concentrate the minds and heighten the level of expectation to deliver.

Coach Stuart Lancaster can call on a cavalry of athletes to close down space, fan out in defence to make the Aviva a claustrophobic arena.

Outside that, they have brought on board the Bath connection from out-half George Ford to outside centre Jonathan Joseph and wing Anthony Watson.

This provides the sort of telepathic link that has been causing consternation for defences in the Premiership all season.

In simple terms, England are bigger, stronger faster than Ireland. They don't have to rely on the genius of their management. They just have to play to their strengths.

Although it is a fool's errand to predict how Joe Schmidt will approach this, Ireland's coach will have ranked the defeat at Twickenham as the second most upsetting day in the job since he took over from Declan Kidney.

He has had a year to work out a better way or to better implement the game plan that came up one bad call short of a draw when David Attwood crept around the side of a late maul for a nailed on penalty that wasn't given.

This could just be the hour Jared Payne steps out of the novice category and into the limelight as a real live international centre.

Certainly, the partnership between Robbie Henshaw and Payne gives Ireland greater punch in attack than that of Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy last year.

The high balls from Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton come as a guaranteed Irish ploy with the chasers willing to contest in flight or wait for the receiver to return to earth and plant them.

The variety is there too. Surely, Watson will be a point of weakness and Joseph has not been asked many questions in defence where, despite what Ireland have been saying, there are questions to be answered.

For all that, this will be won and lost up front where Ireland have to break-even - that's all - and look to their half-backs to make better decisions than Ben Youngs and Ford (below).

It is here they can make the definitive gains that can take them out to three from three.

If Ireland can get back to the level they showed in their last defeat to New Zealand in November 2013, not the nine wins between then and now, they will win this one.

Verdict: Ireland

ireland v england, tomorrow live rte2/bbc1, (ko 3.0)

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