…Wasps Quintet Looking To Make Their Mark…Easterby On Croker Record…Rowntree Rates Irish Front Row…Say What?…Numbers Game…
WASPS QUINTET LOOKING TO MAKE THEIR MARK: London Wasps have the biggest club representation in the England team named for Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations showdown with Ireland.
The Adams Park outfit have five players in Martin Johnson’s starting line-up – winger Paul Sackey, centre Riki Flutey, prop Phil Vickery and flankers James Haskell and Joe Worsley.
Worsley, man-of-the-match in England’s 23-15 defeat to Wales, will be making his 70th Test appearance at Croke Park where he also featured two years ago against Ireland.
“If you’d said to be at the start of my career that I would have 70 caps I would have bitten your hand off,” he said, contemplating this weekend’s encounter.
“The atmosphere at Croke Park was great two years ago and it’s an honour to play in a stadium like that. We didn’t play that well and they did and we were on the end of a big defeat.
“Ireland are a hard team to read; they ask some difficult questions and move the ball around.
“(Brian) O’Driscoll has got a tidy side step which I have experienced a few times but he is also very strong and has good length strength so he can break out of tackles.”
Experienced prop Vickery, who skippered England for that 2007 Dublin defeat, is eager for his second visit to the Jones’s Road venue.
“The atmosphere will be fantastic at Croke Park but you shouldn’t get wound up about it. You should enjoy playing in such a wonderful environment and winning in it makes it even better,” he insisted.
“In 2007 the whole thing was huge because of all the history around the event. This time it’s not new for us.
“I was very disappointed to captain the team and come off the pitch with a defeat like that. But we believe that if we execute our game-plan better than they do with theirs, we can win the match.
“All the talk has been about Wales and Ireland have quietly gone under the radar as a result, but they are serious contenders for the title.
“Ireland have got some very settled combinations in their side which is a big bonus for any team.”
Vickery also had a word for Irish tighthead John Hayes, who will become the most-capped player in Six Nations history on Saturday with his 47th appearance in the tournament.
“John Hayes is a player who seems to have been written off even more often than me! He’s still there and you don’t get to win 92 caps for your country without being a great player,” he said.
EASTERBY ON CROKER RECORD: Simon Easterby’s 65th and final appearance for Ireland ended in disappointment last year when Ireland fell to a 33-10 defeat at Twickenham.
But the Llanelli Scarlets skipper has fond memories of previous clashes with England and he will be willing his former international team-mates on this weekend.
Easterby started all four of Ireland’s victories over the English between 2004 and 2007, with the Croke Park success of two years ago holding outstanding memories for the durable flanker.
“Losing that game in that location would have been unthinkable. We knew it wasn’t an option and that showed in how we performed that day,” he said, recalling the 43-13 win.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on the guys, but it would be nice to have played twice there and not lost.
“It would be nice to finish on that note and make sure their record at Croke Park ends like that.”
ROWNTREE RATES IRISH FRONT ROW: As ever, the battle for superiority in the scrum will be a fiercely contested one when Ireland and England go head-to-head this weekend.
England scrum coach Graeme Rowntree, who will also be involved with the British & Irish Lions this summer, has spoken of his admiration for the Irish front row.
With the game just days away, he said: “The Irish front row of Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery and John Hayes – the Munster outfit – are a handful.
“They are all improved players. I am a big fan of Flannery and they are all contenders for that Lions trip.”
Although all thoughts of the Lions tour are parked as the home nations battle for Six Nations honours, Rowntree will be keeping a keen eye on the stand-out performers in the packs at Croke Park.
Commenting on the progress of one such Lions hopeful, English loosehead Andrew Sheridan, he added: “Against Wales it was a straight Lions trial with him and Gethin Jenkins.
“Andrew has come along in the last few weeks. His work rate is colossal and I don’t use that word lightly, along with the rest of our front five.
“He will be judged because of the man he is and the size he is with what he does in the scrum. That is developing nicely as well and another increase in performance and we will be happy at the weekend.”
“John scored the training try of the week down in Cork last week. An intercept. He ran up out of the line. He got a round of applause from everyone…it must have been half the pitch.
“The whole coaching staff nearly fainted. They didn’t know what was going on. The players clapped him off the pitch, man-of-the-match style!”
– Tommy Bowe speaks of the Irish squad’s admiration for John Hayes, who astounded one and all by scoring a rare try during last week’s training camp in Cork
“Irish rugby has come a long way and so has provincial rugby. We spoke about remembering last year’s match at Twickenham more than Croke Park (in 2007).
“There’s a lot of hurt from last year because we got a good, old trouncing and now it’s the time to set that right.”
– Full-back Rob Kearney says Ireland will be all out for revenge on Saturday after last year’s 33-10 defeat by England at Twickenham
“Paul O’Connell is a machine. I rate him very highly, definitely one of the best locks in world rugby.
“Donncha is very much like Bakkies (Botha). He’s the grafter, does the dirty work. Not a lot of people see the amount of work he puts in, cleaning rucks, making turnovers.
“Now and then he does get the opportunity to carry ball, and give us a little bit of forward momentum.
“So it’s very much the same kind of combination that we had with the Boks but I have to rate them both very highly.”
– Ireland forwards coach Gert Smal gives his opinion on the Paul O’Connell-Donncha O’Callaghan second row combination and how the pair compare to South Africa’s Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, whom Smal coached to Rugby World Cup glory in 2007
54 – Brian O’Driscoll will be captaining his country for the 54th time on Saturday. He has so far led Ireland to 36 wins. The Leinster centre is closing in on Test rugby’s captaincy record (59 matches) which is jointly shared by Australia’s George Gregan and former England centre Will Carling
7 – As well as being just 11 points away from becoming the International Championship’s record points scorer, Ronan O’Gara is currently seventh on world rugby’s list of all-time leading points scorers.
The Munster and Ireland out-half boasts a haul of 889 international points and his next targets are South Africa’s Percy Montgomery (893 points) and Wallaby great Michael Lynagh (911 points)
3 – Three players in Ireland’s squad for Saturday’s game have never played against England before at senior level. They are scrum half Tomas O’Leary, flanker Stephen Ferris and replacement prop Tom Court