The Irish hordes will descend on Twickenham on February 22 in the hope of seeing their heroes claim the Triple Crown and take a giant leap closer towards the Grand Slam.
After the second round of Six Nations games Ireland top the table on points difference from France, with both sides having already doubled their win totals from last year’s tournament.
Kicking was the order of the day in Dublin with Ireland putting boot to ball 34 times in an excellent tactical display. Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray’s high quality kicking was backed up by a superb lineout and an excellent pressure game in the loose, led by Peter O’Mahony. Unlucky to lose out to Jamie Heaslip for the man-of-the-match award against Scotland, the Munster captain put in another monumental shift against the highly-rated Welsh. Rory Best and Sexton secured three turnovers each with O’Mahony two. After two games the number six now has five forced turnovers while conceding just one.
Ireland fared well at the set piece as Devin Toner continued his aerial mastery in the lineout with wins at the front, middle and back along with a steal. Rory Best hit 15 of his 16 throws and those throwing stats are in sharp contrast to his form in last year’s tournament and will need to remain at that standard against England. Starting hooker Dylan Hartley was a perfect 20 from 20 against Scotland on Saturday with Courtney Lawes his favourite target. With his veteran experience and current throwing excellence Hartley is a vital cog in this England machine, particularly given the poor accuracy of Hartley’s understudy Tom Youngs.
Billy Vunipola had another strong carrying game for England with 16 carries for 58 metres. Although Mike Brown caught some of the initial post-match headlines with 12 carries for 117m, full back Jonny May’s 11 carries for 92m were perhaps more impressive. On an atrocious Murrayfield pitch ill-suited to flying wings the man who broke his nose and had to be replaced so early at the Stade de France last week went hunting for work. Only one of May’s carries was from a kick return; all the rest of that yardage was made in much tighter confines.
Fly half Owen Farrell followed up a good performance in Paris with another as he left much of the tactical kicking to scrum half Danny Care. Farrell once again showed his ability to make a line break, carrying the ball in two hands and looking left and right for support. With breaks like that England’s nine and ten will keep Ireland’s defensive line honest and it’s for that reason alone that it would be a surprise to see Joe Schmidt make changes to the Irish midfield for the Twickenham trip.
But a note of warning: Joe Schmidt will be concerned that Ireland conceded six turnovers in the Welsh 22. In the first round of games England were undone by three moments of opportunism from France so the Irish will need to be as ruthless in London.
* All stats: OPTA
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