English eyes may have their sights set on a world record in Ireland this weekend, but there is another record that doesn’t make quite as pleasant reading. Since the birth of the Six Nations in 2000, England have travelled to Dublin eight times and only twice have they left victorious. One of those wins came in 2003 as the Grand Slam was secured by Clive Woodward’s team, while the second of those did not come until 10 years later in a tight 12-6 victory.
More often than not Dublin has been a city of woe for England and it’s why the Red Rose are wary of today’s clash.
In 2007 they were hammered by a record 30-point margin as Ireland ran out 43-13 winners, while four years later England had the Grand Slam snatched away from them at the final hurdle following a 24-8 loss. The Six Nations title was still theirs thanks to France’s victory over Wales hours later but, as captain Dylan Hartley recalls now, he still left feeling dirty.
“There are guys, like James Haskell, who have been playing since 2007,” he says. “And what can he actually put to his name that is outside of the last year? Probably a Six Nations title a few years (2011), but we lost in that final game and that’s a dirty feeling to have. It’s a wasted opportunity and looking back now, and knowing how hard we train and prepare, I didn’t do what I needed to to be right for that game. And I am sure people like James Haskell would say the same thing.”
Hartley is not the only one in this England squad who knows about the difficulties of winning in Dublin. Of the 23 players selected by Eddie Jones to face Ireland this weekend, five were part of the team that let the Grand Slam slip through their fingers in 2011 with defeat in Dublin.
A 21-year-old Ben Youngs started at scrum-half that day and, in the lashing rain, endured an experience he won’t want to live again.
“I think I had about six caps at the time,” says Youngs. “It’s very hard to compare it but I think the guys that were there, we can certainly pass on our knowledge and experience (of that day). I think Tommy Bowe scored with a quick tap and we were chasing the game in wet weather.
“I’m sure it will be wet again at the weekend or at least it’s meant to be. You don’t want to put yourself in a position where you’re chasing the game as early on as we were in 2011. I have no doubt this team…we won’t be doing that.”
Tales of past trips to Ireland have naturally come up in the England camp this week as they look to right the wrongs of 2011 and secure what would be their second Grand Slam in as many years.
While Jones admits it has not dominated the agenda in team meetings, his admission that discussions have been had is an indication of how bad events have been in the past - and how wary England are it doesn’t happen again.
“We’ve certainly had guys who were involved in those games talk about it,” says Jones.
“We haven’t overly concentrated on it. We’ve tried to control the things we can control. We know the pitfalls of what can happen and we know how much the Irish dislike the English and how much they like spoiling the party.”
It is why the likes of Danny Care, another alumni from that class of 2011, are stressing that no complacency will creep into England’s game today as they also look to secure a world record 19th win in a row.
“We won’t take anything for granted this week and we know how good Ireland are and how good they can be in one game,” says Care.
“They don’t like losing at home and they don’t lose many. We’ve faced all sorts of different obstacles and a measure of the team is we’re dealing with all the situations quite well.”
In terms of coping with this scenario, England have opted to confront the challenge head on rather than be intimidated by the task at hand.
Painful memories of previous defeats in Dublin may make them wary, but is has also been one of the squad’s biggest motivators preparing for this final showdown.
“It’s not something we’ll be looking to repeat,” says Youngs, reflecting once more on 2011.
“You shouldn’t use that as a fear but as a motivation. That’s why one of the main reasons when we came off against Scotland, we were straight onto Ireland.
“Although we had won the title, we don’t feel like we’ve won it yet and it won’t feel like that unless we get the result we want at the weekend.
“The thought of being defeated and going up to get a trophy wouldn’t feel right.”
As the man who will be lifting that Six Nations trophy tonight come what may, Hartley is perhaps more determined than anyone to make sure this is one trip to Dublin he isn’t left to rue.
“You don’t get these opportunities regularly in life,” he says. “We don’t have long careers — 10 to 12 years if you’re lucky — and you need to make the most of them when they present themselves, because am I going to be here this time next year to do this again?”