Ireland’s RBS 6 Nations Championship hopes rest on today’s crunch clash with an unbeaten England side at Twickenham. Two years ago at the London venue, Ireland fell to a 33-10 defeat in what was Eddie O’Sullivan’s last game in charge. Can the class of 2010 reverse that result and crown John Hayes’ 100th cap with a win?
RBS 6 NATIONS CHAMPIONSHIP: Saturday, February 27
ENGLAND v IRELAND, Twickenham, 4pm (live RTE Two/BBC One)
Team News: John Hayes will win his 100th cap for Ireland on Saturday, as head coach Declan Kidney makes four changes to the team to face England in the RBS 6 Nations Championship – two in the forwards and two in the back-line.
Geordan Murphy returns to the Ireland team at full-back after missing the November internationals due to a shoulder injury.
Murphy, who won his last cap against Wales last March, lined out for Leicester over the weekend and comes into the side for the injured Rob Kearney.
Leinster’s Jonathan Sexton has been selected at out-half, for his first start since November’s victory over South Africa.
In the forwards, long-serving prop Hayes will become Irish rugby’s first centurion as part of a front row that sees Ulster’s Rory Best come into the side in place of the suspended Jerry Flannery.
Hayes, now 36, joins an illustrious list of players worldwide who have attained such a milestone.
The final change to the starting line-up is Donncha O’Callaghan, who has recovered from a knee injury and replaces Leo Cullen.
O’Callaghan is returning to the side for the first time since the game against South Africa in November, linking up once again with his Munster colleague Paul O’Connell in the second row.
Connacht’s Sean Cronin joins the matchday 22 for the first time in an RBS 6 Nations Championship game, taking the back-up hooker role.
Tony Buckley, Shane Jennings and Andrew Trimble have also been added to the replacements bench.
Meanwhile, England team manager Martin Johnson has named an unchanged starting line-up for Saturday’s showdown with Ireland at Twickenham.
The only changes to the English matchday 22 are on the replacements bench where Lee Mears, Joe Worsley and Ben Foden take over from Steve Thompson, Steffon Armitage and Matt Mullan respectively.
Johnson has kept faith with the fifteen players that started the 17-12 victory over Italy in Rome last time out.
Commenting on the changes to his bench, he said: “Lee is back in good form after his injury and he gives us something a bit different off the bench with his ball-handling and his dynamism.
“Ben Foden is back on the bench. We made a specific call for the Italy game with three front rowers.
“That limits your options a bit and I said to Ben after the game last week it would have been nice to have him come on for the last 10 minutes against Italy.
“It’s good to have him back on the bench.”
ENGLAND: Delon Armitage (London Irish); Mark Cueto (Sale Sharks), Mathew Tait (Sale Sharks), Riki Flutey (Brive), Ugo Monye (Harlequins); Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon), Danny Care (Harlequins); Tim Payne (London Wasps), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Simon Shaw (London Wasps), Steve Borthwick (Saracens) (capt), James Haskell (Stade Francais), Lewis Moody (Leicester Tigers), Nick Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements: Lee Mears (Bath), David Wilson (Bath), Louis Deacon (Leicester Tigers), Joe Worsley (London Wasps), Paul Hodgson (London Irish), Toby Flood (Leicester Tigers), Ben Foden (Northampton Saints).
IRELAND: Geordan Murphy (Leicester Tigers); Tommy Bowe (Ospreys), Brian O’Driscoll (UCD/Leinster) (capt), Gordon D’Arcy (Lansdowne/Leinster), Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster); Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Tomas O’Leary (Dolphin/Munster); Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster), John Hayes (Bruff/Munster), Donncha O’Callaghan (Cork Constitution/Munster), Paul O’Connell (Young Munster/Munster), Stephen Ferris (Dungannon/Ulster), David Wallace (Garryowen/Munster), Jamie Heaslip (Naas/Leinster).
Replacements: Sean Cronin (Buccaneers/Connacht), Tony Buckley (Shannon/Munster), Leo Cullen (Blackrock College/Leinster), Shane Jennings (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Eoin Reddan (Lansdowne/Leinster), Ronan O’Gara (Cork Constitution/Munster), Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster).
Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Christophe Berdos (France), David Changleng (Scotland)
Television Match Official: Carlo Damasco (Italy)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): England to win: 10/11; Draw: 18/1; Ireland to win: Evens
Pre-Match Quotes: Declan Kidney (Ireland) – “Geordan’s experience will compensate for his lack of rugby. Twickenham is not a ground he’s unfamiliar with. He’ll be playing against guys who he knows. That was part of the mix in giving him the nod for this one.
“We’re blessed with two out-halves, one with huge experience, the other up-and-coming. I thought it was opportune to give Jon a go this time.
“It’s an exceptional achievement for John (Hayes) to reach 100 caps – and most of them have been starts in the position of tighthead prop.
“Also, the vast majority of them have been played for the full 80 minutes. It’s testament to his professionalism and lifestyle.
“Hopefully there will be a few more caps after Saturday but he should enjoy this special milestone. I know John won’t be looking to lead the team out. John is a private man and likes it that way.
“England have two wins. They came second in last year’s Six Nations when we beat them by a point at home.
“They had the November series when they had an extraordinary number of injuries. But since then they’ve built some momentum.
“Like all English sides they’ll be very physical. They know the game well and have a very strong defensive record.
“We’ll have to keep our discipline. England have been in the last two World Cup finals and will be as strong as ever.
“They’re evolving and getting better with each game. I don’t see them as being one-dimensional. I see them playing in a whole host of different ways.
“They play smart rugby. They’re in the business of winning and so are we.”
Martin Johnson (England) – “This is the sort of game you get involved in rugby to play in. There will be a full house at Twickenham, the Grand Slam champions are coming and we have a chance to try and beat them.
“It is a good game to be involved in and it comes at a good time for us, Ireland at home after two wins.
“They come here as the best team from these islands, they certainly have that tag at the moment. It is a huge game. We will have to be better than we have been to beat them.
“We are better off for every game we play because the guys are getting used to playing with each other. The battle on Saturday is to get tempo in the game when we have the ball and that is the challenge.
“France got a huge tempo in the game (against Ireland) and they managed to keep that tempo in their attack. If we can get quick ball there will be chances to attack.
“The breakdown will be key. Their back five forwards are all Lions from the last tour. They are very strong in that area.
“There will be huge intensity in Saturday’s match but that intensity can’t be headless. It has got to be controlled at the right time.”
Pre-Match Links –
Recent Meetings –
2005 RBS 6 Nations: Ireland 19 England 13, Lansdowne Road
2006 RBS 6 Nations: England 24 Ireland 28, Twickenham
2007 RBS 6 Nations: Ireland 43 England 13, Croke Park
2008 RBS 6 Nations: England 33 Ireland 10, Twickenham
2009 RBS 6 Nations: Ireland 14 England 13, Croke Park