Tuesday 12 December 2017

Neil Francis: I never came off the pitch intact against England, emotionally or physically

Ger Keville

Ger Keville

Forget the flair of the French or the passion of the Welsh, England have always offered Ireland their toughest challenge in the Six Nations according to former international Neil Francis.

Ireland go into this Sunday's meeting with the English neck and neck on four points apiece after two games and with away clashes against Wales and Scotland to follow, it's a defining 80 minutes of rugby for both teams.

Following a somewhat scrappy win against the French, Irish Independent columnist Francis is expecting another tit for tat battle this weekend.

"It's always the toughest game, no question. I don't think I have ever come off the pitch (against England) intact emotionally, physically or spiritually," Francis told Independent.ie.

"They are very tough, England are very, very tough to play. During my time they always had an exceptional side and were always very difficult to beat."

While wary of the challenge ahead, Francis also suggests that this England team are not as good as they are being made out to be. A narrow opening day win in Cardiff was followed up with a routine victory against Italy in Twickenham and Francis is not reading too much into either win.

"It seems to be a very low key build up to this match given it's importance and it's significance because we are looking at it from a very parochial perspective," said Francis.

"We are looking at a Championship here. England are probably looking at this as something that will springboard them to the World Cup and give them a sense of perspective that they should be able to get out of their group first of all which will be difficult for them.

"I think in the Autumn Internationals they were quite poor, they seemed to have lost their direction a bit. They come here with a fair bit of confidence but I am not exactly sure that they are as good as they think they are because their performances against Wales and Italy were as usual overblown by the English media. I don't think they are quite as good as they think they are.

"Having said that, I do think they will produce a performance. Over the course of the last three or four years Ireland haven't performed against them and that's a major issue. England come here confident, they will be very efficient in terms of every aspect of their play and unless Ireland play well, they are going to struggle. 

"It's going to be one for the purest. It's going to be a game of chess. Ireland will have to be adventurous, if they don't take chances, England will wear them down."

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