Saturday 21 October 2017

England v Ireland: Five key battles that could decide the game

Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll during squad training ahead of their RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship match against England on Saturday
Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll during squad training ahead of their RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship match against England on Saturday

Duncan Bech

England face an Ireland side at Twickenham who have won both of their opening 2014 RBS 6 Nations matches.

Here we examines the crucial match-ups which could decide Saturday's encounter.

DAVID WILSON v CIAN HEALY

How long Wilson will last is a mystery even to the respected Bath tighthead, who has been limited to just 47 minutes of rugby in two months because of calf and back injuries. Ever improving and a solid operator, he nonetheless faces one of the game's foremost looseheads in Cian Healy. The British and Irish Lion is a strong scrummager and a dynamic force in the loose.

COURTNEY LAWES v PAUL O'CONNELL

A collision to savour, even if both players will state head-to-heads are irrelevant in the modern game. O'Connell is an all-time great and the emotional heartbeat of his side, providing controlled fury and set-piece expertise. For the increasingly influential Lawes this has been a breakthrough season. What better way to gauge his progress than a duel with O'Connell?

OWEN FARRELL v JONATHAN SEXTON

A battle of wits between Lions team-mates who became friends off the pitch during last summer's tour to Australia. The mutual respect that underpins their relationship will be cast aside as Farrell tests himself against the more established Sexton. In an exciting development, Farrell has displayed greater variety in attack this Six Nations, but Sexton still boasts a more complete all-round game.

BILLY VUNIPOLA v JAMIE HEASLIP

England's player of the championship comes up against an Ireland vice-captain in fine form, expect fireworks. Vunipola's impressive carries and assuredness under restarts have kept England on the front foot and Ireland will certainly be looking to nullify his impact. Heaslip has been central to Ireland's rolling maul success and his ball-carrying has improved immeasurably from last year.

LUTHER BURRELL v BRIAN O'DRISCOLL

Two men who couldn't be further from each other in terms of experience but with little to separate them in terms of influence. Burrell is a powerhouse and has shown an eye for a try. He needs to add subtlety to his game. In absorbing the hit from Scott Williams a fortnight ago, BOD showed how he can still deal with big, bruising centres.

Others to watch: Danny Care v Conor Murray, Dylan Hartley v Rory Best, Rob Kearney v Mike Brown

ENGLAND v IRELAND: Match facts

* Brian O'Driscoll will equal George Gregan's world-record Test caps tally of 139, amassing the total by virtue of 131 appearances for Ireland and eight for the British and Irish Lions.

* O'Driscoll could set a new record tally of nine personal victories for Ireland over England, already level with legendary Lions and Ireland centre Mike Gibson's eight.

* Leinster centre O'Driscoll will also equal Ronan O'Gara's championship appearance record of 63 this weekend.

* Ireland can claim their first Triple Crown since the 2009 Grand Slam and their 11th in total with victory in west London on Saturday.

* England will concede a staggering 194 caps when the two teams compare centre divisions: Gordon D'Arcy and O'Driscoll will extend their combined tally to 208 this weekend, against 14 for Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell.

* England lock Courtney Lawes has won half as many line-outs as any other forward in the Six Nations after two rounds. The Northampton lock has 18 line-out takes, with Ireland's Devin Toner second with 12.

* Ireland have leaked just two tries in their last six matches in the tournament, and are yet to concede in this campaign.

* Ireland will face stubborn resistance to their potent driving maul this weekend, evidenced by the fact no forward has scored a try against England in the Six Nations since Italy's Fabio Ongaro in 2011.

* Defeat would hand Ireland a fourth-straight loss against England, their worst run against the English since their six consecutive losses between 1995 and 2000.

* England fly-half George Ford is primed to make his international debut from the bench.

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