England and Ireland collide in the crucial fixture in Group A, with the winners taking pole position in the race for a stake in the showpiece event on finals weekend.
Ireland opened the competition with a statement by overwhelming Wales 32-9 while England started in effective if unspectacular style with a 40-0 rout of a limited Georgia.
Recent results show that England have Ireland’s number. Three conclusive wins are bookended by thumping victories home and away in the Six Nations that stand as two of the finest performances of the Eddie Jones era.
Ireland can be vulnerable against the most powerful opposition, a point disparagingly made by South Africa’s World Cup-winning coach Rassie Erasmus in Japan last year when he described them as “softies”. Andy Farrell’s team have been stung by the comment, but it is up to their pack to prove snarling foes can be faced down.
‘United Nations’, Porter and dominance
Jones’ pre-match mind games this week have been delivered with less force than is customary – perhaps in a nod to troubled times – but they were unmistakably baiting nonetheless.
Questions have been asked of Andrew Porter’s scrummaging technique, Ireland are challenged to repeat their self-proclaimed “dominant” performance against Wales when they reach Twickenham, and fun has been poked at their “United Nations” line-up, a reference to the strong southern hemisphere influence in their starting XV. The jabs will have found their target.
“Porter’s done really well, he’s taken to Test rugby well. Scrums in a fairly unusual way which may need some referee intervention there, so we’ll wait and see,” Jones said.
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When asked to elaborate on the source of his concern over Porter, Jones said: “I’ll leave that up to the referee.
“The scrum contest is always challenging against Ireland. We’ve got a referee who generally doesn’t reward dominant scrums so it’ll be interesting to see how he looks at that area.”
War on the floor
Despite the attempt to unsettle Ireland, Jones has also praised a team he clearly admires, and that respect is evident when discussing their back row, who he describes as “the best poaching team in Europe”.
To combat the prowess of CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony, England have deployed their World Cup flankers Tom Curry and Sam Underhill.
“We need an aggressive, low-to-the-ground back row and Sam Underhill and Tom Curry are outstanding in that area,” Jones said.
A war on the floor awaits.
Putting smiles on the faces of fans watching the Autumn Nations Cup at home amid the gloom of a second lockdown has been a mantra for England since they entered camp for the first time in mid-October, but monotone wins against Italy and Georgia will not have captured imaginations.
Ireland is a fixture with the capacity to ignite the campaign, but for that to happen there must be a so-far-unseen intent to expand horizons beyond an unrelenting kicking game and set-piece dominance.
Will England’s experience give them the edge?
In terms of experience, the clash is a heavyweight mismatch, with England fielding a starting XV containing 725 caps and Ireland totalling only 433 in comparison.
Nowhere is the gulf of international exposure more evident than at half-back where Ben Youngs and Owen Farrell have amassed 186 Test appearances and the Irish pairing of Jamison Gibson-Park and Ross Byrne a mere 11.
The visitors are a team in transition and England will be scenting blood.
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jonathan Joseph, 13 Ollie Lawrence, 12 Henry Slade, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (c), 9 Ben Youngs; 1 Mako Vunipola, 2 Jamie George, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 Joe Launchbury, 6 Tom Curry, 7 Sam Underhill, 8 Billy Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Jonny Hill, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Dan Robson, 22 George Ford, 23 Max Malins.
Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 1 Cian Healy, 2 Ronan Kelleher, 3 Andrew Porter, 4 Quinn Roux, 5 James Ryan, 6 CJ Stander, 7 Peter O’Mahony, 8 Caelan Doris.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Will Connors, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Jacob Stockdale.
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