Could there possibly be any reason to oppose Ireland this weekend, as they begin their 6 Nations campaign against England?
The hosts are Grand Slam Champions who then went onto win a series down under in Australia before completing an Autumn clean sweet, including a defeat of New Zealand. They arguably have the best coach in world rugby and in many people’s eyes, the best flyhalf and scrumhalf combination, not to mention one of the best wingers. To add to this, all four of their provincial teams are in the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup.
It’s a daunting task for any side to face, but bookmakers might have overreacted by giving England a nine-point start for their trip here.
Eddie Jones’ men slumped to fifth with three straight defeats last season including a 24-15 defeat at Twickenham, and then fell even further with a series defeat in South Africa when Eddie Jones’ job was once on the line.
However, they have recovered the winning streak with a successful Autumn which included three wins from four, and there ought to be a more positive atmosphere around the camp than the last time the pair met.
Jones has also had a glut of positive injury news in recent weeks. Owen Farrell has recovered from his thumb surgery to start at 10 in a big boost, but perhaps even more importantly, the Vunipola brothers have managed to return and get fit once again with game time for Saracens – the one English representative left in the Champions Cup. There’s a first Six Nations start since 2013 for Manu Tuilagi, rehabilitated and still an explosive center option judged by his form with Leicester, where he’s scored six tries this season in a difficult season for the Tigers, and the return of Jack Nowell to the fold as well.
Of course, individually it is nearly impossible to argue that the Irish are in better form man for man – eight of the side come from the Leinster team that beat both Bath and Wasps at home this season – and Joe Schmidt has yet to taste defeat in a home Six Nations international, overseeing 12 victories and one draw since he took over.
However, not all of those have been blowout wins and in a traditionally tight encounter, the average score in Dublin is 18-15 between these two – indeed only two tries have been scored in the two meetings between the two at the Aviva Stadium.
Ireland v England
Guinness 6 Nations Kick-off: 4.45pm
Aviva Stadium, Dublin
ITV 1HD / Virgin One HD
HEAD TO HEAD RECORD
(Maximum 10 matches)
2018: Ireland won 24-15 in London
2017: Ireland won 13-9 in Dublin
2016: England won 21-10 in London
2015: England won 21-13 in London
2015: Ireland won 19-9 in Dublin
2014: England won 13-10 in London
2013: England won 12-6 in Dublin
2012: England won 30-9 in London
2011: England won 20-9 in Dublin
2011: Ireland won 24-8 in Dublin
Ireland: 15 Robbie Henshaw, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Sean O’Brien, 21 John Cooney, 22 Joey Carbery, 23 Jordan Larmour
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jonny May, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Jack Nowell, 10 Owen Farrell (c), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Mark Wilson, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Dan Robson, 22 George Ford, 23 Chris Ashton
RECOMMENDED BETS (scale of 1-100 points)
BACK ENGLAND +9 5 points at 4/5 with starsports.bet
PROFIT/LOSS SINCE JAN 1 2017: PROFIT 195.64 points
(excluding Premier League ante-post and Six Nations ante-post)