England v Ireland is always a fixture to look forward to and their clash on Saturday in Dublin is going to leave some bruises. The Irish can expect the full force of Eddie Jones’ power game on Saturday evening. Jones of course is never shy in coming forward and his comments about England having to be ‘brutal’ in this coming Six Nations are no surprise. If England are to topple the Irish in Dublin on Saturday then they will need more than brute force to do so.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) January 29, 2019
Ireland and indeed Irish rugby is at an all time high and they rightly go into the Six Nations as overwhelming favourites. Their provinces are flying in Europe and Ireland look increasingly like England’s 2003 vintage. They have the perfect mixture of experience, flair and a very decent set-piece with very few weaknesses. This is why England will have to still look outside of their favoured power game to create chances to upset Ireland. Getting the selection right for this weekend is key for Jones and it starts at full-back.
Mike Brown or Elliot Daly?
It may come as a surprise to some that Jack Nowell’s name has been thrown into the hat. However, Nowell was head and shoulders better than most when Exeter came very close to upsetting Munster at Thomond Park two weeks ago. If ever there was a dress rehearsal for Dublin then Munster’s game against the Chiefs was it. It won’t happen but Nowell’s performance deserves a place on England’s bench.
Mike Brown looks set to return to international rugby in the full back jersey. Given the aerial bombardment that Messrs Conor Murray and Jonny Sexton will likely dish out this is an understandable move by Jones. We know what Brown brings to this kind of occasion and he will not let England down. Is he the likely 15 in Japan, probably not, but the World Cup is not on Saturday.
It also raises the question around Elliot Daly’s position in the team. Jeremy Guscott, who is better placed than most on this question thinks that Daly should play in the centres. Daly would do a fine job there but it is unlikely that Jones will make this switch nine months out from a World Cup campaign. It seems preposterous that Daly may miss out on selection for the Ireland match but it now looks very likely. Our verdict: Mike Brown
Ben Te’o or Manu Tuilagi?
It is a question which is starting to rumble more often which is should Manu Tuilagi get the starting inside centre role over Ben Te’o? Tuilagi has been a shining beacon for a struggling Leicester outfit this season. At his best, he is destructive, both in defence and attack.
England need ball carriers who can get over the gain line on Saturday and make a crucial half a yard’s difference. Ben Te’o although solid on his return from injury in November has not hit his straps yet. A combination of Manu Tuilagi and a gradually improving Henry Slade would be a strong centre combination for Saturday evening. Our verdict: Manu Tuilagi
Joe Cokanasiga, Chris Ashton or Jack Nowell?
Watching two of the game’s best youngsters in the form of Jacob Stockdale and Joe Cokanasiga fight it out on Saturday, would be one for the romantics. Stockdale has proven over the last 18 months that he is the best winger in world and Cokanasiga has all the attributes to follow suit. If Cokanasiga is fit then he should start. His size and pace can give England an x-factor on the wing which would work well in tandem with Jonny May.
Cokanasiga has not put a foot wrong in his last two outings and should keep his place. It would be tough on Chris Ashton, who is such an outstanding finisher and likewise with the excellent Jack Nowell. One of these latter two should be on the bench to cover the back three. Our verdict: Joe Cokanasiga
Brad Shields or Mark Wilson?
We assume that Billy Vunipola and Tom Curry will slot in at number eight and openside respectively. Which means that either Jack Clifford, Mark Wilson or Brad Shields would take the blindside jumper. Clifford is mentioned here because he has returned to form and fitness for Harlequins after a horror run of injuries. That said, Shields and Wilson are probably vying for the starting spot. Brad Shields is slowly turning his critics around but has not exactly pulled up stumps since making the switch to Wasps from New Zealand.
Mark Wilson, recently under an injury cloud, deserves to start considering his breakout month during England’s renaissance in November. England will need every ounce of energy at the breakdown, in defence and across the field. Wilson, showed those attributes off in all four games in November. Our verdict: Mark Wilson
Yes, England need to provide brute power over the Irish but they also have to come up with other ways to trouble the Irish. Ireland are exceptionally difficult to break down at the moment and that may just open the doors for someone like a Joe Cokanasiga to cause some damage. For English rugby all eyes will be on Eddie Jones’ team selection on Thursday.
Update: Joe Cokanasiga, Brad Shields and Ben Te’o have been ruled out with injury ahead of the team selection. How will this affect England’s chances?
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