Ireland won't beat Scotland but 'worst thing' for England would be Grand Slam game in Dublin - 2003 World Cup winner
A continuation of the champagne year of Grand Slams and Australian whitewashes is “the last thing England will want” going into another Grand Slam decider, and Eddie Jones’ side would be better off swapping sips of bubbly for the taste of defeat before then, insists Ben Kay.
World Cup winner Kay thinks England must lose before they travel to the Aviva Stadium on March 18 to face Ireland if they are to have any chance of winning the Six Nations, in a year where he sees the tournament as tighter than before.
This year’s championship is a shootout for players aiming for a Lions spot, with so many squad places up for grabs giving players that extra motivation, if they needed it, to take chances for the win. And this could lead to a few upsets, with Scotland the team the other nations should be most wary of, insists Kay.
He has Ireland to lose their curtain raiser to the Scots, leading him to believe England must also lose so they’re not facing a Joe Schmidt side who would “delight in nothing more” than stopping back-to-back Grand Slams.
“I genuinely think that a Grand Slam will be difficult for anyone,” Kay, who achieved the feat with England in 2003, told The Independent.
“I always struggle with predictions, I actually had Scotland beating Ireland at home in the first game, just with the momentum that Glasgow have had. It could be a bit of an ambush early on in the tournament for Ireland.
“If England do manage to go undefeated through the championship up until the last game, that will be the worst thing that could happen for them. The last thing England will want to be doing is playing a Grand Slam decider against a team that couldn’t get the Grand Slam and would delight in nothing more than stopping England.
“I’m pretty glad England aren’t playing Scotland at Murrayfield and against Italy the bonus points system will come into play, so it’s good to have them at home.”
Jones faces somewhat of a selection headache with the return to fitness of all four of his second rowers, after Maro Itoje and George Kruis missed all and part of the autumn internationals, respectively.
However, an injury to Chris Robshaw, ruling him out of the championships, may present an opportunity for Lions head coach Warren Gatland to see Itoje as a six, with Kay’s choices of Wales’ Alun Wyn Jones and Scotland’s Jonny Gray filling the two lock positions.
“It’s such a tight tournament this year, if we talk about the number of positions that are up for grabs in the [Lions] Test squad, let alone the starting XV,” he added.
“A lot of really world class players are likely to not get on the tour and that shows the strength in depth.
“I think England will have Kruis and [Joe] Launchbury in the second row and Itoje at six, just so you can get all your best players on the pitch.
“It’s frightening that there are four genuinely international class options for England but then you think of the Lions as a whole and you’ve got Alun Wyn Jones, Iain Henderson and Devon Toner for Ireland, the Gray brothers, especially Jonny, who would be in my Test team if it started tomorrow.
“Maybe Warren Gatland would hope Itoje will play at six because he might well be thinking he can get him there with Jonny Gray and Alun Wyn Jones.”
Irish Independent Sport Star Awards
Pick our magic sports moment of the year and win a trip for two to London. To view the shortlist and cast your vote click here.
Independent News Service