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Mick Cleary

Mick Cleary

England have had their fill of tales of the unexpected. So it is no surprise that Clive Woodward has decided to travel to Dublin for Sunday’s RBS Six Nations showdown against Ireland with his most

England have had their fill of tales of the unexpected. So it is no surprise that Clive Woodward has decided to travel to Dublin for Sunday’s RBS Six Nations showdown against Ireland with his most tried and trusted performers in an attempt finally to land the Grand Slam, a prize that has so far eluded this generation of England players.

Woodward has named an unchanged starting line-up for the first time in eight matches this season, putting his faith in the XV who did so well against Scotland four days ago. The only tinkering comes on the bench, where Saracens scrum-half Kyran Bracken and Leicester hooker Dorian West step in to replace Andy Gomarsall and Mark Regan.

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One other alteration might be forced on the England manager, for replacement lock Danny Grewcock was facing a suspension as he went before a Rugby Football Union disciplinary hearing last night to answer charges on three counts of misconduct in a league match against Northampton. Bath’s Steve Borthwick was named in the squad as cover.

Lansdowne Road will not be a place for the faint of heart as England look to record their first Slam under Woodward, and Ireland attempt to do likewise for the first time in 55 years. Small wonder that tickets are trading at well over #1,000 apiece.

“There wasn’t any lengthy debate over selection,” Woodward said. “It was very straightforward. I thought we stepped up a few gears against Scotland. It’s not time to experiment in a one-off game that we want to win – one that we must win. It is a huge one-off game. There’s no hiding from that. We’ve got to front up on Sunday.”

That is something that England have not managed to do on the last three occasions on which they have tilted at a Grand Slam, the last of those mishaps coming at Lansdowne Road 18 months ago. However, the theory that England are a team who do not play well on the road is wildly inaccurate. In fact, they have the best away record of any of the leading countries since the 1999 World Cup.

Their failing is more specific. They have not been able to nail down the final result. Call it nerves, call it complacency, call it destiny’s cruel jousting, it is nonetheless a serious blemish on a fine era of English rugby. And this squad, featuring the likes of Lawrence Dallaglio, Neil Back, Richard Hill and scrum-half Matt Dawson (the captain for the last two Grand Slam slip-ups who will be winning his 50th cap on Sunday), will want to right that kink in their upward curve of achievement.

Once again Martin Johnson, who missed the defeats by Scotland and Ireland in 2001 and 2000, leads the side. His hard-nosed level-headedness will be crucial.

“This game is all about what’s between the ears,” Woodward said. “We have to be prepared for what’s going to hit us on Sunday afternoon. We won’t be using the conditions or the fact that we are playing away from home as any sort of excuse. We’ve got to be able to adapt to everything. The bottom line is that it’s the same pitch wherever you are.”

England will have their only heavy-duty training session of the week this afternoon at Twickenham. “The important thing is not to over-train or do too much,” Woodward said. “That’s the temptation. We did very little going into the Scotland game. Freshness is the key to Sunday. There is nothing much we’ll change. All the hard work is done. We’ll tinker with the game plan based on the Irish team and the weather.”

Ireland are awaiting final fitness reports on back-row forward Victor Costello and lock Gary Longwell. They name their side today (Wed).

J Lewsey (Wasps); J Robinson (Sale), B Cohen
(Northampton), M Tindall (Bath), W Greenwood (Harlequins); J Wilkinson (Newcastle), M Dawson (Northampton); L Dallaglio (Wasps), N Back (Leicester), R Hill (Saracens); B Kay
(Leicester), M Johnson capt (Leicester); J Leonard
(Harlequins), S Thompson (Northampton), G Rowntree

Replacements: D West (Leicester), T Woodman (Gloucester), D Grewcock (Bath), J Worsley (Wasps), K Bracken (Saracens), P Grayson (Northampton), D Luger (Harlequins).