Greatness awaits Grand Slam-chasing England in Dublin
England’s rugby players are heading to Dublin to achieve greatness: Back-to-back Grand Slams in the Six Nations and a tier one record of 19 straight wins.
They could hardly have picked a tougher place to do it.
The Irish are unbeaten at Lansdowne Road in the Six Nations since 2013. They beat Australia there in the autumn, a week after running world campion New Zealand close. England has lost to Ireland on five of its last seven trips to Dublin and seen Grand Slam bids go up in smoke in the Irish capital twice before this century – in 2001 and ’11.
Ireland, meanwhile, has taken well to the role of party-pooper of late, ending the All Blacks’ own 18-match winning streak only four months ago in Chicago.
England, it seems, has it all to do.
”They love spoiling�parties,” England coach Eddie Jones said,�”and the�party they’d love to spoil the most is the England�party.”
The title is already England’s for the second straight year after last weekend’s 61-21 thrashing of Scotland at Twickenham. Yet for this generation of players, that’s not enough.
Never has winning the Six Nations meant so little, not considering what’s at stake on Saturday.
Just five teams have swept the championship in successive years since 1910, when it became the Five Nations instead of the Home Nations Championship.
No leading team has ever won 19 straight test matches.
These are heady days for an England team whose winning run began with a consolation victory over Uruguay at the end of its ill-fated Rugby World Cup campaign in 2015.
”To go from where we are to greatness takes another step of endeavor,” Jones said on Thursday. ”It takes greater focus, it takes greater persistence, it takes greater emotional output.
”It is like climbing up a mountain – every time you go to another level of the mountain it becomes more unstable. The ground becomes more unstable, your ears hurt, your nose hurts. It is exactly the same when you are climbing the ladder of success. Everything becomes a bit harder.”
England has won the Six Nations with a game to spare for the second straight year, another illustration of its dominance of European rugby under Jones.
More was expected of the Irish, especially after their impressive 2016 when they beat all three southern hemisphere superpowers, but they have lost to Scotland and Wales and had a real fight in seeing off France in Dublin.
They haven’t lost to all three of their rival home nations in one tournament since 1998.
”We can still attain the target of second place,” Ireland coach Joe Schmidt said, ”so there’s still a heck of a lot for us to gain individually and collectively.”
England produced its best performance this year in swatting aside a much-hyped Scotland, and is even stronger this week with No. 8 Billy Vunipola and star winger Anthony Watson back in the starting XV.
Vunipola will make his first start since November, when he tore cartilage in his right knee. Watson makes his first start for England since the Australia tour in June following a broken jaw and hamstring sprain.
Left wing Elliot Daly passed concussion protocols.
Ireland has lost scrumhalf Conor Murray to a shoulder injury and dropped lock Devin Toner, with Kieran Marmion and Iain Henderson, respectively, coming in.
Ireland: Jared Payne, Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Simon Zebo, Jonathan Sexton, Kieran Marmion; Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien, CJ Stander, Iain Henderson, Donnacha Ryan, Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best (captain), Jack McGrath. Reserves: Niall Scannell, Cian Healy, John Ryan, Devin Toner, Peter O’Mahony, Luke McGrath, Paddy Jackson, Andrew Conway.
England: Mike Brown, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Billy Vunipola, James Haskell, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury, Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley (captain), Joe Marler. Reserves: Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler, Tom Wood, Nathan Hughes, Danny Care, Ben Te’o, Jack Nowell.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80