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Six Nations | Group Stage
Mar 18, 2023 at 5pm UK
Sheehan (33', 68'), Henshaw (62'), Herring (77')
George (73')

Preview: Ireland vs. England - prediction, team news, head to head

Sports Mole previews Saturday's Six Nations clash between Ireland and England, including predictions, team news and their head-to-head record.

Ireland will be aiming to adorn St Patrick's weekend with Grand Slam glory on home soil when they welcome a wounded England to Dublin in the final match of the 2023 Six Nations on Saturday.

Andy Farrell's men know that victory will give them just a fourth-ever Grand Slam in this competition, but England will be looking to spoil the party with their own motive of redemption following a record defeat last time out.

Match preview

Ireland's Mack Hansen scores their first try on March 12, 2023© Reuters

With their current status as world number one and regular recent victories over New Zealand, it is easy to forget that Ireland are relative newcomers at the very top table of international rugby.

None of the original five nations to compete in the previous form of this tournament has won the Grand Slam on fewer occasions than Ireland, putting into even sharper focus the scale of the achievement that they find themselves on the brink of this weekend.

Victory over England would give them their first title and Grand Slam since 2018, and only their fourth clean sweep in Five or Six Nations history, so Dublin will be gearing up for an almighty party this weekend.

With St Patrick's Day itself falling on Friday, Irish fans would be forgiven for starting their celebrations early having seen England obliterated by France at Twickenham last weekend.

However, the line from the Irish camp from immediately after their victory over Scotland last weekend was one of caution regarding an England response, and any slip-up this weekend would not only cost them a Grand Slam and Triple Crown, but could also see them miss out on the title should France beat Wales by a big enough margin earlier in the day.

There is still a job to complete for Farrell's side, then, but there have been precious few signs to suggest that they might fall short of that throughout this year's tournament.

Ireland's James Lowe scores their second try on February 11, 2023© Reuters

Bonus-point wins over Wales, France and Italy left them with a perfect record after three games and, while they failed to pick up the bonus point against Scotland last weekend, that 22-7 triumph is arguably the one which will give Farrell the most satisfaction.

Ireland were forced to overcome major adversity to beat an impressive Scotland side, losing Caelan Doris, Iain Henderson and hooker Dan Sheehan to injuries in the first half alone, before replacement hooker Ronan Kelleher joined Sheehan on the sidelines less than 10 minutes into the second half when Ireland's lead stood at just one.

However, with Cian Healy acting as a makeshift hooker in the scrum and Josh van der Flier throwing in at the lineouts, Ireland successfully traversed those setbacks to score 19 unanswered points after Scotland took the lead with their only try in the 16th minute.

The win at Murrayfield was a seventh in a row for Ireland in the Six Nations, and another this weekend would see them create one more slice of history by winning eight on the bounce in the competition for the first time.

Those of a superstitious persuasion could draw parallels between Ireland's seven-match winning streak and England being about as far away from seventh heaven as it is possible to get last weekend, when in their 777th Test match they shipped seven tries for only the seventh time in their history.

There were no redeeming features from their humiliating and humbling home defeat at the hands of France, with the final scoreline of 53-10 being England's heaviest-ever defeat on home turf and their heaviest-ever Six Nations loss home or away.

England's Marcus Smith and teammates look dejected on March 11, 2023© Reuters

It was an emphatic way for France to record their first away win in Le Crunch for 18 years and, while Fabien Galthie's side were irresistible at times, England were equally as bad and it was a loss embarrassing enough to raise questions over Steve Borthwick just four games into his new job.

On paper, an away trip to the world's top-ranked side chasing a Grand Slam is the worst possible follow-up to such a low point, with the prospect of similar misery being inflicted now looking very realistic.

However, Borthwick will no doubt be urging his players to relish their rare role as overwhelming underdogs, and the players themselves will be desperate to prove that their chastening experience at Twickenham was just one very bad day at the office.

The pressure will all be on Ireland, whereas England arrive in Dublin with very little to lose and would love to play the party-pooper role.

Victory would also ensure that England at least end an up-and-down campaign with a winning record, although their current standing of fourth in the Six Nations table is probably a fair reflection of where they stand in the Northern Hemisphere pecking order ahead of the World Cup later this year.

Ireland Six Nations form:

  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W

England Six Nations form:

  • L
  • W
  • W
  • L

Team News

Ireland's Johnny Sexton during the match on March 12, 2023© Reuters

As if the prospect of winning a Grand Slam, Six Nations title and Triple Crown in Dublin on St Patrick's weekend was not enough, Irish fans are also almost certain to see their talisman Johnny Sexton bid farewell to the Six Nations stage by becoming the leading points-scorer in the competition's history.

Sexton kicked seven points in the win over Scotland last weekend to leave him dead level with compatriot Ronan O'Gara as the all-time leading scorers, so any score will see him move out on his own in his final appearance in the competition before he retires after this year's World Cup.

There is a new partner in the half-backs for him, though, with Jamison Gibson-Park chosen at nine ahead of Conor Murray, who drops to the bench.

Garry Ringrose's worrying withdrawal in a neck brace last weekend means that he misses this game through injury, being replaced by Robbie Henshaw in the centre, while Ireland's third and final change is also an enforced one as Ryan Baird replaces Henderson in the second row.

Those two injury changes are better than first feared, though, with Doris and Sheehan both passed fit to start.

Rob Herring is the new replacement hooker on the bench with Kelleher missing out through injury, while Kieran Treadwell and Jimmy O'Brien also come into the matchday 23.

After being left out from the start against France, captain Owen Farrell returns to the England XV against the team managed by his father in one of four changes made by Borthwick, with Marcus Smith back on the bench.

There is also a recall for Manu Tuilagi, who makes his first appearance of the tournament at 12 in place of the injured Ollie Lawrence.

The final change in the backline sees Henry Arundell handed his first England start on the left wing, replacing Max Malins, while in the pack Ollie Chessum misses out through injury and is replaced by David Ribbans.

Amongst the subs is Dan Cole, who would join Jason Leonard, Ben Youngs and Owen Farrell in the England 100-cap club should he feature, while also making his 50th Six Nations appearance.

Nick Isiekwe and Joe Marchant also come into the matchday 23 for England, with Malins dropping out of the squad entirely.

Ireland starting lineup: 15. Hugo Keenan, 14. Mack Hansen, 13. Robbie Henshaw, 12. Bundee Aki, 11. James Lowe, 10. Johnny Sexton (c), 9. Jamison Gibson-Park; 1. Andrew Porter, 2. Dan Sheehan, 3. Tadhg Furlong, 4. Ryan Baird, 5. James Ryan, 6. Peter O'Mahony, 7. Josh van der Flier, 8. Caelan Doris

Replacements: 16. Rob Herring, 17. Cian Healy, 18. Tom O'Toole, 19. Kieran Treadwell, 20. Jack Conan, 21. Conor Murray, 22. Ross Byrne, 23. Jimmy O'Brien

England starting lineup: 15. Freddie Steward, 14. Anthony Watson, 13. Henry Slade, 12. Manu Tuilagi, 11. Henry Arundell, 10. Owen Farrell (c), 9. Jack van Poortvliet; 1. Ellis Genge, 2. Jamie George, 3. Kyle Sinckler, 4. Maro Itoje, 5. David Ribbans, 6. Lewis Ludlam, 7. Jack Willis, 8. Alex Dombrandt

Replacements: 16. Jack Walker, 17. Mako Vunipola, 18. Dan Cole, 19. Nick Isiekwe, 20. Ben Curry, 21. Alex Mitchell, 22. Marcus Smith, 23. Joe Marchant

Head To Head

England and Ireland during their Six Nations clash on March 12, 2022.© Reuters

Ireland have been England's bogey team more than any other in the Six Nations, winning 13 of their previous 23 matches against them, including both of the last two.

Farrell's men scored exactly 32 points in both of those victories - a 32-15 triumph at Twickenham last year and a 32-18 win in their last meeting in Dublin - but prior to that England won four consecutive matches against Ireland in all competitions.

Overall, England have won 80 of the previous 139 meetings between the two sides, losing 51 of those, while they also edge the head-to-head record in Ireland with 33 wins to Ireland's 32.

However, the balance of power between the two teams has been much more even in recent years, and England have only ever won twice at the Aviva Stadium, and three times in total away against Ireland in the Six Nations era.

SM words green background

We say: Ireland 35-12 England

Even without them having the lure of winning the Grand Slam in Dublin on St Patrick's weekend, Ireland away from home is the most difficult test in rugby right now, which England could view as either the worst possible or best possible follow-up match to last Saturday's debacle.

Borthwick's talented side surely cannot be as bad as they were against France again, so we do not see them being on the end of quite such a heavy defeat this time around, but it is hard to see them getting too close to their hosts this weekend either.

Everything seems to be pointing towards a perfect night for Ireland, and we expect them to wrap up Grand Slam glory in relatively comfortable fashion.

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