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Countdown To Croker: Two Days To Go

Countdown To Croker: Two Days To Go

…Kidney: England Will Be Primed…Ferris Relishes Back Row Battle…Johnson Impressed By Ireland…Say What?…Numbers Game…

KIDNEY: ENGLAND WILL BE PRIMED: Ireland coach Declan Kidney has warned his players to expect a strong showing from England at Croke Park on Saturday, with Martin Johnson’s men having benefited from extra training time.

With a new agreement in place between England’s clubs and the Rugby Football Union, Johnson was afforded the chance to keep his players in camp last week and they were also not pressed into club action over the weekend.

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England may have struggled at times in their opening win over Italy but Kidney was impressed with how they grafted last time out in their 23-15 defeat to reigning champions Wales.

Having Mike Ford, the former Ireland defence coach, in their backroom team is another string to England’s bow.

“I thought their improvement in performance in the Wales match was well up on the week before,” Kidney said.

“I suppose the other thing that concerns me is knowing the quality of the people in the background. We’ve worked with Mike Ford before and our respect for Martin Johnson would be huge.

“Knowing the guys in the background and the fact that they’ve had two clear weeks leading into this match, if they made that much of an improvement in one week between Italy and Wales, it’s unknown what sort of improvements they’ll have made in the last two weeks.

“And that’s what we would have been trying to prepare for. But as we can do nothing about the English preparations, all we can do is just concentrate on our own game and that is what we’ve been trying to do over our two-week period.

“I think it’s a new thing for the English, to have that preparation time whereas before they might have been back in playing Premiership matches. You can’t overstate how important that is for a team to get proper prep time leading into a game.”

Ireland will be gunning for their fifth win in six meetings with England this weekend, but the men in white had 23 points to spare when the sides met 11 months ago at Twickenham.

2000 – England won 50-18, Twickenham
2001 – Ireland won 20-14, Lansdowne Road
2002 – England won 45-11, Twickenham
2003 – England won 42-6, Lansdowne Road
2004 – Ireland won 19-13, Twickenham
2005 – Ireland won 19-13, Lansdowne Road
2006 – Ireland won 28-24, Twickenham
2007 – Ireland won 43-13, Croke Park
2008 – England won 33-10, Twickenham

FERRIS RELISHES BACK ROW BATTLE: Ireland number 6 Stephen Ferris is gearing himself up for his first Test match experience against England this weekend.

The Ulster ace has played before against English sides at underage and ‘A’ level but Saturday’s crunch RBS 6 Nations clash at Croke Park will be his first senior cap against England.

Speaking ahead of his 11th Test cap and his sixth successive start for his country, Ferris is looking forward to locking horns with England’s back row selection of James Haskell, Joe Worsley and Nick Easter.

“They’re tough, big strong guys with a lot of experience. I played against Nick Easter for Ulster recently, so I kinda know what he’s going to come with,” he said.

“I’m really looking forward to playing against them because they’re three very good players. I’ve a lot of respect for them because they stepped up to the mark last time out against Wales.”

Ferris has been pleased with how he has performed so far in this year’s Championship, taking over the blindside berth from the retired Simon Easterby.

Maintaining his run in the Irish side is something the 23-year-old is determined to do, particularly with quality back rowers now dotted around all four provinces.

“There’s so much competition in the back row. But fortunately, the three of us – myself, Wally (David Wallace) and Jamie (Heaslip) – have been playing really well together and working hard as a unit.

“We’ve made Declan’s life a lot harder when he’s making his team selection.

“But also you’ve got the likes of young (Sean) O’Brien coming up. He’s been playing tremendous rugby.

“You just have to watch your back. You can’t let it slip at any moment, or else guys like that will be straight in.”

To listen to Stephen Ferris’ interview in full, click here.

JOHNSON IMPRESSED BY IRELAND: England team manager Martin Johnson is leaving no stone unturned as he tries to mastermind a famous victory at Croke Park on Saturday.

The English squad have enjoyed an extended build-up to this must-win game, but having analysed in-form Ireland to the hilt Johnson knows how tough his side’s task will be.

“Ireland have been very good in their games so far. There’s been a lot of talk about Wales,” he said, speaking at the England team announcement press conference.

“The Irish have beaten the French at home, which was a pretty close game. I thought they kept their nerve very well in that, they were very disciplined and very patient at the end of the game to win that.

“And then to win away in Italy which is always fairly difficult. They’ve quietly gone about their business very well, when there’s been attention on other teams.”

Although Ireland and Wales are riding high at the top of the RBS 6 Nations table, Johnson feels the 2009 title is still anyone’s to claim.

“The Irish will be quietly looking forward to this game and going on for the rest of the tournament.

“They’ve got a chance to win the Championship, as have four teams playing at the weekend. It’ll be a fantastic weekend of rugby I think.”


“He is a good player. We know about his strengths going forward and we have highlighted some of his possible weaknesses.

“I feel I can bring more to the table. I would hate see myself as a weak link, I know I can add something to the team performance.”

– Ireland full-back Rob Kearney talks about his opposite number, England’s Delon Armitage, and their prospective duel at Croke Park

“No one here is thinking beyond England. No one would show the disrespect to any team in thinking beyond this game.

“We have analysed England as well as we can over the past two weeks. They will be hurting and they will want to prove a point to a lot of their critics. That is a dangerous place to be.

“We need to up our game. Last year over in Twickenham was hugely disappointing for us. We let ourselves down a bit and we want to put that right. We need to keep fighting and fighting to the end.

“If we can start well and put them under pressure, then maybe the doubts will start to creep in. But that will be down to us, how we approach the game and the physicality.”

– Ireland prop Marcus Horan speaks about the squad’s approach to the England game and what they need to do to gain revenge for last year’s 33-10 defeat at Twickenham

“Toby’s kicking game has been very good when he has come on, his defence has improved as has his grasp of what we are trying to do in attack and his distribution has been good.
“We have seen a bit more composure from him this season. This is a chance for Toby to come in and get a start.

“I thought he did well when he started there against the All Blacks (in November) and this is an opportunity to nail down the position.”

– England team manager Martin Johnson talks about his selection of Toby Flood at out-half for Saturday’s Croke Park clash. It will be Flood’s first start of the 2009 Championship


13 – Saturday’s game will mark Rob Kearney’s 13th successive Test match for Ireland. He came on as a replacement for Gordon D’Arcy (broken arm) against Italy last year and has been ever-present since then.

The Louth man has made seven starts for Ireland on the left wing and five at full-back

4 – Since earning a recall for last year’s RBS 6 Nations match against Scotland, Tommy Bowe has bedded himself back into the Irish side.

The Monaghan native will be making his 11th successive appearance for Ireland this weekend and he is in a rich vein of form with four tries in five Tests this season

9 – Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll and his team-mates Ronan O’Gara, John Hayes, Paul O’Connell and Peter Stringer are all set to take on England for the ninth time at Test level this weekend.

O’Driscoll (2005) and O’Gara (2002) have both scored tries before against England