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Defeat not an option

It doesn't take too long, say the length of two matches, for a country to fall from a state of grace. This would be the unedifying consequence of Ireland enduring defeat by England tomorrow.

For sure, the end of the world would not be nigh, but the end of an upwardly mobile profile in the international arena will definitely be in jeopardy.

Leinster's Jonathan Sexton will look to guide Ireland into enemy territory whether by boot or by swift distribution. One thing is certain, he will make his area a no-go zone for Jonny Wilkinson.

Disappointingly, England have not moved one metre wider from the limited game plan that almost earned Martin Johnson a shock win at Croke Park last year.

The import of Brian Smith as the backs guru was supposed to signal a change of style. It hasn't turned out that way as the pedestrian Wilkinson has slowed the pace of their attack.

Even so, there is the fear that this backline will click into gear some day. It has pace to burn, strength to spare and two able game-managing generals in Wilkinson, when clued in, and the possibly Munster-bound Riki Flutey.

The problem is the entire three-quarter line has not been able to blend as a single, cohesive unit. The basics of the game, the take and give of moving the ball, putting it temptingly in front of the receiver and simple attacking alignment, have proved beyond them to date.

Obviously, this is of little or no concern to Ireland's management and players.

They have their own plans, in which the recalled Donncha O'Callaghan's partnership with Paul O'Connell is central.


Rory Best and Geordan Murphy will have to get up to the speed of the contest from the first whistle. The back row will have to carry and crunch with efficiency.

Tight-head John Hayes will walk out as the first player to reach 100 caps for this country. He is a celebration of all that is good in the game. A quiet giant, he seeks no favours. Simply, he plays for the love of the game and his country.

England v Ireland

Twickenham, TOMORROW, 4.0


Verdict: Ireland

England: D Armitage; M Cueto, M Tait, R Flutey, U Monye; J Wilkinson, D Care; D Cole, D Hartley, T Payne, S Shaw, S Borthwick (capt), J Haskell, L Moody, N Easter.

Ireland: G Murphy; T Bowe, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, K Earls; J Sexton, T O'Leary; C Healy, R Best, J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, S Ferris, D Wallace, J Heaslip.