Bundee Aki believes Ireland are going to have to bring their 'A' game to Twickenham on Sunday if they are to continue their winning start to the 2020 Guinness Six Nations.
The Irish return this weekend to the scene of both their 2018 Grand Slam triumph and a record defeat to the English last August, and memories of each time and the heavy home loss in Dublin a year ago have all emphasised to Andy Farrell’s squad the necessity to be at the peak of their powers against a side who reached the World Cup final in the autumn.
For Aki and fellow centre Robbie Henshaw, that first and foremost means winning the midfield battle with England head coach Eddie Jones able to mix and match a George Ford and Owen Farrell partnership at 10-12 with a choice between fit-again Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade at outside centre or the option to go with Farrell, Tuilagi and Slade as a 10-12-13 combination.
Either way, Aki said on Tuesday: “We have to make sure we bring our 'A' game. Henry and Manu are world-class players and they were World Cup runners-up but we will have to concentrate on ourselves and go from there.
“Manu is a big man, a strong man. He plays a big part in the way they play, Owen Farrell and George Ford too, playing the game. Manu is a massive threat. Henry Slade too.
“The last two games with them we’ve had a bit of a spanking from them so we need to focus on ourselves.
“They’re a world-class team … and if you’re off your game they are going to punish you. We have to make sure we are on our game. We have to make sure we start well and play to the best of our ability.”
With head coach Farrell set to name his team for Twickenham on Wednesday, Aki’s midfield partner Henshaw is likely to return to action this Sunday having failed a Head Injury Assessment during the bonus-point victory over Wales 10 days ago and now completed his return to play protocols.
Despite his disappointment at failing to finish the game against the Welsh, the Leinster centre is pleased with Ireland’s progress in the championship to date but also recognised the step up in challenge coming his team’s way in London.
“Having the two home games back-to-back is rare in the Six Nations. It’s been a good start for us but we’re well aware of the challenge going to Twickenham.
“We’ve all played there before and we can expect it to be a hostile environment.
“It’s a really tough place to go, but we have that bit of confidence from two years ago, we went there, backs to the wall and had the Grand Slam on the line. We've been there before. It's a tough place to play, but on a positive note we've pulled out big performances there before.”