Stuart Lancaster will cast a close eye over England v Ireland in two weeks’ time — as homework for Leinster v Saracens over a month later.
In previous seasons, players and coaches have spoken of how little relevance a club match can have on a Test clash, but the former England coach is not thinking that way this year.
Eddie Jones’ men will host Ireland with the visitors going for a Triple Crown and seeking to keep alive a Grand Slam — as well as wanting revenge for defeat the last time the two sides met.
When Leo Cullen’s side face Saracens in Dublin in April, they’ll be looking for revenge for last season’s Champions Cup final defeat, too — and Lancaster is hoping to pick up some tips from how Andy Farrell’s side take on the Saracens-heavy English.
“I think the England v Ireland game will have a big bearing, tactically and technically on how the two sides match up,” Lancaster said.
“Because such is the amount of Saracens players in the England team and such a number of Leinster players in the Ireland team.
“The bookies have England with a seven-point advantage ... playing at home at Twickenham is a big factor, and in the previous game Ireland played at Twickenham they put 50-odd points on them,” he said.
“Ireland have a lot of work to do to improve on that performance, but I think Ireland can win,
“I do think that, because of the quality of players they’ve got.
“But England improved, too, they didn’t play great against France but got a good win in very poor conditions (in Scotland).
“They have powerful players, they’ve a good level of cohesion and organisation, and for them, first game up at Twickenham, it could set them up as well.
I’m not going to put my money on any team at the moment. But I think it’ll be a great game.
Victory in London would be a huge boost for Farrell in his first season in charge of Ireland, and Lancaster — who worked with Farrell at England — is not surprised by his two opening victories.
“He has had a good start, but I think that was never in doubt,” he said.
“From my point of view, his time has come. In the first game, while people might have said Ireland didn’t play too well, I think they underestimated how well Scotland played, they bounced back from the World Cup, I think Scotland defend better under Steve Tandy, so, I’m delighted for Andy and the coaching team.
“The first two games, to be at home, is a real advantage — the real test is to come now, away from home.”
Meanwhile, Lancaster says he is happy to face Saracens in the Champions Cup quarter-final, after the English side were fined for fielding an ineligible player.
“You just have to trust the EPCR’s panel, and their judgement. If Saracens have copped a fine and they’re allowed to play, then that’s the way it is.
“Personally, I think it’d be a real shame if they’d lost out.”