Ireland vs. England
Sunday 1 March, 3:00pm
Undoubtedly the standout game of Round 3 is the top-two battle between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. England will be looking to make it five wins in a row against their rivals from across the sea, but despite that four-year unbeaten run – recent contests have been incredibly tight. Last year’s encounter between the two resulted in a 13-10 win for England at Twickenham and with little separating them on form; the Irish will be hoping that home advantage can make all the difference this year.
Stuart Lancaster will be without Mike Brown, who is still suffering the effects of knock sustained in the Round 2 match against Italy. The Harlequins full-back will be replaced by Alex Goode of Saracens, who will have the tough task of filling the marauding role so well executed by Brown.
The England team will not be officially announced until Friday but it is also expected that Jonny May will be replaced by Exeter winger Jack Nowell. These should be the only tweaks to an England side looking to build on their current form in what could be the title deciding match. The visitors have the highest point’s tally of any team at the tournament but on Sunday they will be up against the Six Nation’s meanest defence.
The home team have got their tactics spot-on so far and have used their kicking prowess to great effect. The main weakness for the men in green has been their inability to capitalise on possession and exploit space – something that will improve as Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw get used to each other in the central roles.
Jamie Heaslip is still recovering from the back injury picked against France and is likely to be replaced in the No. 8 role by Leinster’s Jordi Murphy. Roger Wilson and Billy Holland have been called into the training squad as final preparations get underway. Joe Schmidt will be hoping to add more attacking fluidity to their strong defensive play, and use long balls to pressurise England. The early exchanges and pack battles will be vital in this game.
Ireland has home advantage but England will be arriving in Dublin without fear and in good form. If they can deal with the variety of the Irish long game, they should have enough on the ground to earn a narrow victory.
Prediction: England win by 0-5 points