Ireland hardman Stephen Ferris today opened hostilities ahead of Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations clash at Twickenham by branding England “bad losers”.
The rivals collide in the climax to the championship that will determine who finishes runner-up behind Wales, the likely winners.
Ireland have dominated the fixture over the last 10 years, winning seven of the previous eight meetings in the Six Nations, including three of the last four at Twickenham.
Ferris insists years of hurt losing to England at under-age level ensures they remain the prized scalp, adding that they lack grace in defeat.
“If you ask any team who do they like beating and it’s always the English. Why? It’s something I can’t really put my finger on,” he said.
“We took so many beatings from England at under-age level. Any time we played Under-18s, -19s or -20s we always received a thumping. I never beat them.
“They come with bit of a tag about being arrogant and if you asked any team they’d probably say the same thing.
“They’re a good side and are full of winners, but when they lose they don’t like it.
“They’re bad losers and hopefully they’ll be bad losers on Saturday.”
Ferris stresses that he is on good terms with those England players he met while on the 2009 Lions tour to South Africa and admires what they have achieved in this Six Nations.
Memories of a shambolic World Cup have been replaced by a wave of optimism generated by the unexpected success seen under interim head coach Stuart Lancaster.
Under Lancaster’s guidance, England have beaten France in Paris, narrowly lost to Grand Slam-chasing Wales and retain an outside chance of winning the title.
“I went on the Lions tour and got to know a few of England’s players,” said Ferris, who missed training today due to an ankle problem.
“I got on so well with them and had an awful lot of respect for them. I became good friends with some of them.
“England are a good side at the moment and are very hard to break down.
“Saturday will be two good teams going against each other, but we’re also looking forward to getting that result.”
Ferris’ back row colleague Sean O’Brien will start against England despite having spent last week in hospital recovering from a skin infection on his foot.
O’Brien returned to training yesterday and coach Declan Kidney is confident the reigning European player of the year will be ready for the climax to the tournament at Twickenham.
A course of antibiotics was needed to treat the infection and O’Brien lost two kilos while ill.
Munster openside Peter O’Mahony, who impressed on his full debut in Saturday’s 32-14 rout of Scotland, drops to the bench to make room for the 25-year-old.
“We wouldn’t have selected Sean if he wasn’t okay. He’s trained well this morning,” Kidney said.
“Absolutely it’s a tough call on Peter. He played really well and coped with the pressures of starting.”
It is the only change to the side that condemned the Scots to a wooden spoon decider against Italy.
Captain Rory Best (ribs) and lock Donnacha Ryan (shoulder) have been included despite carrying injuries that will limit their involvement in training this week.
Best will become Ireland’s most capped hooker when he makes his 59th Test appearance, eclipsing Keith Wood’s milestone of 58.