…Heaslip Braced For Big Forwards Battle…Ashton Defends Decision To Drop Wilkinson…Bowe Eager To Make His Mark Against England…Say What?…Numbers Game…
HEASLIP BRACED FOR BIG FORWARDS BATTLE: Jamie Heaslip may be a newcomer in the Ireland pack but he has already seen enough in his forward colleagues to be confident that they can take the game to England’s strongly-built front eight on Saturday.
Speaking at the team hotel in Killiney, the amiable number 8 said: “I thought the pack went fine against Wales. Training has been good this week and I feel confident in the guys in the forwards who will be taking to the pitch alongside me.
“The reason Wales got the upper hand in the back row was because they got more ball, particularly in open spaces. But we’ve got nothing to worry about. We’ve been playing well so far and we just need to build on that against England.
“We’ll try and match England up front and then try to dominate them, which is hard against a pack like theirs. Usually the strength of English rugby lies in their pack,” added Heaslip, who had run-outs against Leicester in this season’s Heineken Cup.
The 2004 IRB Under-21 Player of the Year nominee is also backing Ronan O’Gara to make a success of his role as Ireland’s stand-in captain.
“People have asked me if I’m surprised that Ronan has been named captain, but I don’t think so. There are leaders all over this team. It wouldn’t make any difference who is captain,” admitted the 24-year-old.
ASHTON DEFENDS DECISION TO DROP WILKINSON: England coach Brian Ashton has explained the reasoning behind his decision to axe Jonny Wilkinson, world rugby’s new record points scorer, for Saturday’s meeting with Ireland, describing it as ‘just another selection decision.’
The 20-year-old Danny Cipriani has been preferred to the 2003 World Cup winner, whose performance in the 15-9 defeat to Scotland was not good enough for Ashton.
“Jonny has not been as consistent during this tournament as he was in the latter stages of the World Cup. His performances have gone up and down, and I just felt Danny Cipriani has been playing exceptionally well at 10 (for Wasps),” said the former Ireland boss.
“Everyone is equal. From within the squad it’s just another selection decision that needed to be made.”
Ashton revealed that Wilkinson took the decision on the chin and that the Newcastle Falcons star could still have a big part to play in his side’s final match of the 2008 Six Nations.
“Jonny was very professional in his approach to it. Here’s a guy that’s scored more points than anyone else and he is still going to be a valuable member of the squad going forward.
“International rugby these days is more or less a 22-man game and he’s part of the squad.”
BOWE EAGER TO MAKE HIS MARK AGAINST ENGLAND: Ireland’s Tommy Bowe is itching for more time on the ball against England on Saturday, after being starved of possession in last weekend’s defeat to Wales. The Ulster winger is looking forward to what he described as ‘a huge match.’
Having never played against England before at Test level and never graced the pitch at Twickenham, Bowe is understandably excited about Ireland’s encounter with the World Cup runners-up this weekend.
“I think it’s going to be something else. I’ve never played against England before in a senior international. It’s going to be a huge match and I’m really looking forward to it,” said the 24-year-old, who is a current member of the IRFU/PricewaterhouseCoopers High Performance Select Group.
“It’s been up and down, the two games I’ve had (since coming back into the team). I haven’t got as much ball as I might have liked to and I haven’t made the impact I would have been hoping to.
“I think I’m still under pressure, I’m putting myself under pressure to grind out a good performance.”
Bowe readily recognises the high quality of backs at Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan’s disposal and having been out of the side through injury and loss of form, he is determined to do whatever he can to hold onto his starting spot.
“It’s a good thing for Ireland to have such a good wealth of young back-line players coming through. Even the likes of Gavin Duffy, who went to the World Cup and who would be next in line to come into the squad (for the England match).
“Gavin’s been playing very well for Connacht but still can’t get into the set-up. For me to be in here now, to be given my chance, it’s up to me to take it and that’s something that I really want to do.
“I’m not 100% happy with how I’ve gone so far (since coming back). I still think there’s another bit in me,” he admitted.
One thing that will be in Bowe’s favour on Saturday is that Shane Horgan’s re-positioning to centre means the Ulster speedster is back in his more favoured right wing berth, after lining out on the left against Wales.
“Small things are always going to be highlighted and made that bit more difficult so to be on the right (wing) I’ll feel that bit more comfortable there,” he conceded.
To listen to Tommy Bowe’s interview in full, please click here.
“It’s strange when people shout at you on the street. They call your name and I think it must be someone I know and I’d go over thinking: ‘who’s that now?’ But I don’t know them.”
– Giant prop Tony Buckley’s breakthrough into the Munster and Ireland squads in recent seasons has seen him become a popular figure on the streets of his native Cork and beyond
“The first time I was made captain was for (Cork) Con Under-12s. We won a European Cup in France under Fred Casey. Strings (Peter Stringer) was on that team.
“Then (at school) in Pres I captained the Junior and Senior Cup teams under Deccie (Declan Kidney). He was the senior cup coach.
“He’d grill you on your lunch break when you were a junior cap, asking about: ‘what would you do in this part of the pitch? What would you do here?’ They were the building blocks.”
– Ronan O’Gara, Ireland’s stand-in captain for Saturday’s showdown with England, discusses his early years as a skipper with Cork Constitution Under-12s and the Pres Cork Junior and Senior Cup sides
“I’ve played against Danny this season and although he’s inexperienced, he’s very capable. We’ll probably have to keep an extra eye on him more than anything else.
“A lot of us have played against Jonny (Wilkinson) many times and we know his game, but Danny is a bit of an unknown for us. The Munster players have a bit more knowledge of him from this season and he’s a fine talent.
“He played quite well against Munster at Thomond Park. He seems quite level-headed. He’s less experienced than Jonny but he’s been playing well for Wasps and we’ll really have to watch him.”
– Ireland flanker David Wallace gives his opinion on the 20-year-old Danny Cipriani, who has been preferred to Jonny Wilkinson at number 10 in the England team for Saturday’s encounter at Twickenham
5 – Ireland are gunning for their fifth successive win over England this weekend. Since that deflating 2003 defeat at Lansdowne Road, the Irish have won four on the bounce, including last year’s historic 43-13 success at Croke Park. The last time Ireland won five games in-a-row against England was between 1972 and 1976
3 – Shane Horgan, who has been switched into the centre to cover for the injured Brian O’Driscoll, has scored three tries in his last two outings against England. He touched down twice in the Triple Crown-clinching victory at Twickenham in 2006 and twelve months ago he famously collected a Ronan O’Gara cross-field kick to score at Croke Park
0 – The number of tries the England forwards have scored in this year’s Six Nations championship. The English tries in their four matches to date have been shared out between winger Paul Sackey (2), centre Toby Flood (2) and scrum half Richard Wigglesworth