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Friday 18 April 2014

The in-form England/Ireland Six Nations XV

Ireland and England set to renew rivalries for the 128th time this Saturday.
Ireland and England set to renew rivalries for the 128th time this Saturday.

Ireland and England will clash for the 128th time this weekend and along with bragging rights, there is a Triple Crown and championship hopes on the line.

After a narrow defeat in Paris and comfortable victory over the Scots, Stuart Lancaster will see his side run out at home for the first time in the campaign.

For Ireland it will be a stern test of their credentials in what will be Joe Schmidt’s first game away from the Aviva.

So who would make an English/Irish XV based purely on form - not reputations - after two rounds of the 2014 Six Nations?

Here is our selection.

15. Rob Kearney

Mike Brown has been highly impressive so far, but Kearney has continued his November form into the Six Nations. Sound defensively, a real threat going forward and doesn't accept a backward step on the field. Back to his best.

14. Andrew Trimble

A renaissance for the Ulster man in a green jersey, who has often been the fall-guy in team selection. Has carried well in both games, scored a try against Scotland and thundered into the opposition at every occasion.

13. Luther Burrell

The English newcomer will face his biggest challenge yet when he comes up against Brian O’Driscoll – assuming he overcomes his stomach bug – but has settled well into the international fold. Two tries in Paris and Edinburgh, but O’Driscoll is never found wanting with the white jersey in his sights.

12. Billy Twelvetrees

Gordon D’Arcy and Luke Marshall have shared responsibilities in the Irish number 12 shirt and Twelvetrees offers England another decision-maker outside the often functional Owen Farrell. Les Kiss has spoken of his New Zealand-like creative play, though as the Autumn internationals highlighted, may not be quite so impressive on the backfoot.

11. Dave Kearney

The younger Kearney brother has cemented his place since the November Tests and looks assured of his place. Always threatening line breaks, he will be eager to get on the scoreboard in Twickenham.

10. Jonathan Sexton

The Racing Metro man is head and shoulders above the other 10s in the competition. Composed under pressure, Sexton can be called upon to nearly always make the right decision. Not afraid to shirk his defensive duties either.

9. Danny Care

England's play-maker and creative spark, if the ball makes it out of the forwards hands, he will exert a huge influence on the game. Battle with Murray will be fascinating.

1. Cian Healy

His team-mates affectionately refer to him as a freak given his physical abilities and speedy recovery from injury, but the English pack won’t bear witness to any affection from the Leinster prop. His explosive ball-carrying has now come as expected and dependable as ever in the scrum.

2. Rory Best

Dylan Hartley has shown his talent and leadership in both games, but while the Northampton man is solid in the scrum, Best has the advantage with ball carrying and work at the breakdown. At times, plays more like a backrow forward such is his influence on the deck.

3. Dan Cole

After a few early scares in Paris but he dusted himself down to give England a platform in a game England should have won. His absence on Saturday due to a neck injury is a huge loss to Lancaster.

4. Courtney Lawes

Said he is expecting a brawl against Ireland, which should suit the abrasive Northampton man. Has been in top form, with monstrous hits and big carries a feature in both games. Will relish the challenge.

5. Paul O’Connell

Has only played 50 minutes after two rounds, but probably did enough to edge out Joe Launchbury and Devin Toner. Early tackle on Dan Lydiate set the tone against Wales.

6. Peter O’Mahony

Player of the tournament so far, Tom Wood will face a huge challenge when he goes toe-to-toe with the 24 year-old on Saturday. Has tackled, has turned over, has carried, has rallied those around him. A new leader in the Irish pack.

7. Chris Henry

Chris Robshaw is a big influence on this English side, but Chris Henry gets the nod. The Ulsterman isn’t as conspicuous as Sean O’Brien in the loose – few are – but goes about his business in an efficient manner. Key factor in Ireland’s breakdown work.

8. Billy Vunipola

A close call with our own Jamie Heaslip, and while the Leinster man is a more complete player, Vunipola has been a destructive ball carrier for England.

Similar to Nick Williams at Ulster, is far better with ball in hand than without it, and after coming up against Picamoles and Denton, will relish the challenge of the Lions number 8.

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