Sunday sees the only two unbeaten sides left in this years Six Nations go head to head in the Aviva Stadium in what is expected to be a championship decider. Former players and pundits have labelled the game too close to call, raising the question if this huge game has draw written all over it.
Ireland go into the game on a 9 match winning streak including victories over South Africa, Australia and only two weeks ago France, although they have not been massively impressive in some of those games they have been well organised and stuck to their game plan with great efficiency. Joe Schmidt has instilled a great sense of confidence amongst the players that can only be achieved by winning, the fans have similarly gained confidence from the great form of their side, its hard to remember a French game where the people of Ireland were as confident they would come out on top as was the case in Ireland’s last outing. That confidence is evident once again going into the English game with nothing less than a victory expected.
Stuart Lancaster and his England side are not short of confidence themselves, they are unbeaten in 4 and after overcoming Wales in the Millenium stadium they will be confident they can go anywhere and win. Lancaster’s side have been full of flair in the opening two games, they blew Italy away by 47-17 while their 21-16 win at the Millenium was not only a huge statement of intent but also a showcase of the threat the English side have amongst their backs.
A huge amount of hype has been made about young centre Jonathan Joseph who has scored 3 tries in 2 games so far and is expected to be the biggest threat to Ireland when he graces the Aviva pitch. Joe Schmidt’s sides are known for their great organisation but they will have their work cut out against the tricky 23 year old. Joseph wont be the only threat with Burrell, Nowell and Watson alongside him offering a lot going forward.
Tommy Bowe and Simon Zebo will be looking to offer the threat for Ireland this Sunday down their respective wings and will be looking to make amends for not getting any tries on the scoreboard against France. Bowe has shown his prowess in the air fielding many of Sexton’s kick off’s and gaining valuable ground for his side, Zebo has been relatively quiet thus far in the tournament but his potential for moments of brilliance will have Lancaster planning to keep him under control.
Last seasons encounter saw Ireland score a try through Rob Kearney off the back of a set piece, something that Ireland have become renowned for and where they will look to plan most of their attacks this weekend.
The breakdown is often where games are won and lost in modern rugby and it could well be the case when the two sides face off this weekend, Ireland under Schmidt have been brilliant in their rucking and discipline at the breakdown but last week against France they were turned over too many times and they were uncharacteristically ill-disciplined, if they repeat the performance England will have a field day and George Ford will kick penalties for fun if they continue to give him the chance.
The biggest clash of the match will take place between Jonny Sexton and his fellow number 10 George Ford emphasising the importance of number 10’s in the game these days. Sexton is one of the greatest playmakers in the game as he showed last day against France, if he plays to his best it is hard to look past an Ireland win but George Ford will have something to say about that. 21 year old Ford has looked at home so far in the absence of Owen Farrell and will see this big occasion as a chance to show his credentials. Ford will also try to dictate the game to England’s favour through his accurate kicking although his decision making will be vital and any mistake or misjudgement will be punished.
Most games in International rugby at this high level are decided by just one score and with Ireland and England being so well matched you can expect that at the Aviva. It is not out of the realm of possibility that this championship decider could end as a draw, its just too hard to pick a winner.