ENGLAND coach Stuart Lancaster will today ask his team to make the Irish players eat their own words at Twickenham.
After a week in which several of Declan Kidney’s troops chose to highlight Ireland’s good recent record against their opponents, Lancaster will look to the inflammatory comments of the Irish players to inspire his charges.
According to sources close to the England camp, Lancaster will put up the headlines from this week’s Irish newspapers in the home dressingroom and urge his side to spoil the visitors’ St Patrick’s Day celebrations by doing their talking on the pitch.
Unusually for an Irish team led by Kidney, the build-up to this year’s Anglo-Irish championship clash – which is effectively a Six Nations second-placed shoot-out – has been dominated by a steady series of verbal volleys from the Irish camp.
Stephen Ferris kicked it off with his claim that England are “bad losers”, Rob Kearney insisted that Ireland are better than England, while Donncha O’Callaghan claimed that the sight of an English jersey is still like a “red rag”.
Even Jamie Heaslip got in on the act this week, trumpeting that beating England is “the best thing an Irishman can do”. While stand-in Irish captain Rory Best refused to pour further oil on the fiery build-up yesterday, Lancaster and England have kept their counsel all week and are intent on wreaking their revenge on grass.
“From what I hear, the old cliche about pinning the comments on the dressingroom door will definitely be in order here,” said a well-placed source close to the England camp.
“England had enough problems in the World Cup without getting involved in a war of words and Stuart is keen that the players retain their integrity and don’t get involved in a slagging match.
“They know that if they can do their stuff on the pitch, then that will be the best way to ram those words down the Irish players’ throats.”
Lancaster has distanced himself from any distractions this week but he is keenly aware of the manner in which the Irish players have attempted to whip up a storm ahead of the 5.0 kick-off. But, in public, he has remained stoically deferential to today’s opponents.
“They're a good side without a doubt,” said Lancaster, whose chances of gaining the England post on a fulltime basis probably depend on today’s result.
“Ireland will know enough about us to recognise we're probably a slightly different side than has played previously. They'll be looking at us in a different way.”
Ireland prevented England from completing the Grand Slam last season but lost a World Cup warmup game in August.
However, since 2004, Ireland have lost only one Six Nations match against England and they have won three of the last four to be held at English HQ.
“What will be in both coaching teams' minds is what's happened in the previous few games,” said Lancaster. “I'd like to think our performances have improved but also we recognise Ireland are playing pretty well as well. It's set up for a good old game.
“It's going to be a great game. We're very excited to be playing back at Twickenham in front of our own fans but also playing against a high-quality Ireland side who are probably a bit unlucky themselves not to be going for the Grand Slam when you look at some of their results and performances.”