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Hope over expectation for Ireland

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Ireland captain Ciara Griffin. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Ireland captain Ciara Griffin. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Ireland captain Ciara Griffin. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

This is the 25th celebration of the Women's Six Nations. In that time, England has finished first 15 times, including seven straight championships with six Grand Slams from 2006 to 2012.

In fact, the English have reeled off 14 Grand Slams from those 15, a remarkable feat, which has sometimes been a reflection more of the quality of the opposition than what they had to offer.

It looks like there is precious little Ireland - or Italy and Wales, for that matter - can do about preventing a 15th Slam, from the moment the final whistle sounded in England-v-France in round one.

The Irish coaches and players have been singing from the same hymn sheet all week long.

This is a reflection of the unity of purpose driven by coach Adam Griggs and senior leaders, like captain Ciara Griffin and loose-head Lindsay Peat, and the confidence gathered from two wins over Scotland (18-14) and Wales (31-12).

The improvement mapped out should not be under-estimated, with coach Griggs working hard on developing a coherent, ball-in-hand attacking philosophy.

Whether Ireland will win enough clean possession to put their plan into action is another thing.

Once England got over that huge hump that was France away (19-13), they completely shut down the Scots 53-0 in Murrayfield in treacherous conditions.

The news from Doncaster is that it could well be wet and windy at lunchtime today, with the Irish camp receiving an email to that effect earlier in the week.

The prevailing wisdom is that the weather can be a leveller. The worse the better for the underdogs. Not in this case.

Ireland rely on their mobile forwards to carry the fight forward for the precious momentum that can cause problems for anyone.

It is the greatest strength of the exciting front row of the no-nonsense Peat, hooker Cliodhna Moloney and tight-head Linda Djougang and number eight Anna Caplice.

The control of half-backs Kathryn Dane and Claire Keohane, on her second start, will have to measure up to that of Katy Daley-McLean, a game-manager extraordinaire.

It is a stated aim of England coach Simon Middleton to make a fast start, make Ireland suffer in the first quarter. If they can do that, it could turn ugly really quickly.

If Ireland can absorb that aggression, or even top it, the goal will be to stay in the game as long as possible.

That is just highly likely.

England: S McKenna; A Dow, E Scarratt, A Reed, J Breach; K Daley-McLean, A Riley; V Cornborough, L Davies, S Bern, P Cleall, Z Aldcroft, S Beckett, V Fleetwood, S Hunter (capt). Replacements: A Cokayne, D Harper, S Brown, H Millar-Mills, A Harper; N Hunt, Z Harrison, E Scott.

Ireland: E Considine; L Delany, S Naoupu, K Fitzhenry, A Doyle; C Keohane, K Dane; L Peat, C Moloney, L Djougang, A McDermott, J Bobbett, C Griffin (capt), E McMahon, A Caplice. Replacements: V Dabanovich-O'Mahony, L Feely, L Lyons, C Cooney, D Wall; N Cronin, L Muldoon, H Tyrrell.

Verdict: England

Sunday Indo Sport