Stuart Lancaster has played down the growing hype surrounding the potential St Patrick’s Day Grand Slam showdown between England and Ireland.
Lancaster, the former England head coach, who now resides in Dublin, has watched as both his former and current home countries maintained their 100% starts to the championship at the weekend.
England made hard work of victory over Wales, while Ireland demolished Conor O’Shea’s Italy, as expected.
Both countries are keeping their part of the bargain ahead of a potential final-day showdown at Twickenham to decide the destination of the title, but Lancaster was not buying into the narrative.
With Wales up next for Ireland, the Leinster coach believes Joe Schmidt will remain fully focused in trying to avoid a first defeat on Irish soil under his tenure.
“It’s too far away, and that’s not me just batting the question back,” he said. “I think Ireland will 100% only have their focus on Wales. We saw it when we played Scarlets last year in the PRO14 semi, people underestimate how good Wales are defensively, how good they are in attack, you saw how well they played in the second half against England and, on a dry day, they can carve teams up.
“I don’t think England will be getting too far ahead of themselves either, they have to go to Scotland and win, to France and win, two difficult away games.”
Wales visit Dublin in two weeks’ time with the memory of a harsh Twickenham defeat likely to be still playing on their mind.
Despite missing a large number of regular starters, the Welsh were victims of some bad luck and some good English defending in the defeat, with Sam Underhill’s wonder-tackle on Scott Williams denying what looked like a certain try late on.
There are likely to be some big names back in the Wales starting XV when they come to Dublin, where Scarlets tore apart Leinster and Munster last spring on Pro12 duty.
The influence of the defending Pro12 champs has been cited for the Welsh mini-revival, but Lancaster says there’s a bit more to it than just copying Wayne Pivac’s men.
“Warren Gatland’s coaching team deserve credit too. I wouldn’t like to say that it’s down to the fact that he’s picked Scarlets players,” said Lancaster.
“There’s no doubt that the Scarlets, through Stephen Jones and the way he’s created their attack, the skill-set of their players that he’s developed, the way they defend is very, very similar to the way Wales defend with Shaun Edwards, so it’s reasonably seamless.
“And it’s not dissimilar to the amount of Leinster players who play with Ireland.
“You look at the game that Ireland played at the weekend, how comfortable the players looked on the ball, the players inter-linked; look at Jack Conan’s pass, Dan Leavy, the sort of things the back-rows did...
“It does rub off, I think there is an advantage to having a number of players from one team.”
Ireland have not lost a Six Nations game at home under Schmidt, but Lancaster was in charge when England won a scrappy 12-6 encounter in 2013. Having seen how hard it is for a visiting team to win in Dublin, he believes they will be expected to win the next two games.
“I was lucky, we managed to beat Ireland in Ireland. I think Brian O’Driscoll’s wife had given birth that morning, so we caught him on a quiet day!” he said.
“There’s a huge confidence that the Irish players have from playing at the Aviva. They’ve had a lot of success there and a lot of memories. That drives standards, expectation and the desire to want to win.
“I think they are very difficult to beat, but to be a champion team you’ve got to win at home and away. All teams go through ups and downs, defeats and wins and Ireland have had one or two losses along the way, but they look a very, very accomplished team at the moment.”
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