Preview: England v Ireland talking points

Andrew Porter in action for Ireland v England during 2023 Six Nations England and Ireland will clash at Twickenham this weekend (Brian Lawless/PA)

England and Ireland clash in round four of the Six Nations at Twickenham on Saturday, with the 142nd meeting between the rivals packed with significance and sub-plots.

Here, we examine five talking points ahead of the match.

The real world champions?

“Let’s be clear on Ireland – right now we can all agree they are the best team in the world,” were the words Steve Borthwick used when assessing England’s round four opponents, adding his voice to a theme that has developed throughout the tournament. Former Wales captain Sam Warburton holds a similar view that has been greeted with indignation in South Africa given the Springboks retained the World Cup last autumn. It will take the rivals’ two-Test series in July to settle the debate, but for now Andy Farrell’s green machine appear invulnerable as they aim to become the first side to win back to back Grand Slams in the Six Nations era.

Against all odds

The odds are startling – England are rated 4-1 to win with Ireland 1/5 to continue their Grand Slam march. It is hard to recall a more lopsided evaluation for a match at Twickenham and Borthwick’s men undoubtedly face a gargantuan task to rebound from their 30-21 mauling by Scotland, a game in which they made 25 handling errors and gifted 22 turnovers, and deny Ireland a fifth successive victory in the fixture. Murrayfield was the pivotal encounter for England, who must now topple the favourites and France in Lyon to avoid finishing the Six Nations with just two wins for a fourth successive year, a run that would evoke memories of the dark days of the early 1970s and mid 1980s.

Manny mania

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso’s inclusion on the right wing at the expense of Elliot Daly should thrill England fans even if the 21-year-old Exeter finisher has played only a handful of professional matches. Injecting genuine X-factor into the team, Feyi-Waboso has been told to go hunting for the ball in the hope his pace, strength and running lines can make a difference against the champions. But a cautionary tale can be seen in the similar trajectory of Henry Arundell, who exploded on to the scene amid a flurry of stunning tries but now plays in France and is unavailable as a result. It is a failure of England’s that they were unable to find him an ingoing role and they must ensure Feyi-Waboso’s vast talent is fully realised.

Clash of the Titans

It will be a duel to savour when young second row enforcers George Martin and Joe McCarthy go toe to toe. There is a thuggish-ness to both forwards as they look to inflict maximum damage on each side of the ball. And as they share similar stats across the board – both are 22-years-old, same height, comparable weights and experience – there is a real sense that this could be the first of many battles between the type of menacing tight five forward every team needs. Martin’s coming of age performance came against South Africa in the World Cup semi-finals, McCarthy’s against France in round one of this Six Nations. Neither will want to give an inch, the type of menacing tight five forward every team needs.

100 not out

If and when Danny Care steps off the bench at Twickenham, he will become the sixth England men’s player to reach the 100 cap milestone. The enduringly brilliant Harlequins scrum-half made his professional debut in 2003 and even at 37-years-old he is still playing the electrifying rugby that thrills audiences. One of the game’s most popular characters has done it the hard way too, long playing second fiddle to Ben Youngs and then having to resurrect his career, having been cast into Test exile after the 2018 ‘Black Hole Game’ against Japan. Not bad for a self-confessed nutritionist’s nightmare who credits a regimen of cookies and saunas for his longevity.

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