Rory Best is bracing the Ireland pack for its biggest test of the campaign so far as they return to Twickenham where, two years ago, their scrum was well and truly dismantled in a 30-9 defeat.
Saturday’s showdown in south west London is Ireland’s first away game under Joe Schmidt and an opportunity to claim a first Triple Crown since the 2009 Grand Slam season.
Beating England away and picking up silverware in the process would really put Rory Best and his team-mates in the Championship driving seat.
The Ulster hooker, who has started Ireland’s last 20 RBS 6 Nations matches, is hoping their consistent start to this year’s tournament can continue.
“When we lost (the Triple Crown game) to Scotland in 2010, we didn’t have the focus we should have knowing there was silverware up for grabs,” said Best.
“And obviously since then we haven’t got anywhere near winning a Triple Crown. So from that side of things we probably wrongly took it for granted. It’s something we need to put right.
“This squad is very close-knit but it’s not right to compare them to (the) 2009 (squad). We’ve shown now that we can bring a little bit of consistency.
“It is still only two games. To win a Championship, you need to perform for the five games.”
The Irish forwards will need no reminding of that nightmarish outing at Twickenham on St. Patrick’s Day in 2012, when a succession of scrum penalties, allied to a penalty try, saw England run out 21-point winners.
This was before the IRB’s introduction of an additional replacement prop on the bench, and Mike Ross’ injury-enforced withdrawal after 36 minutes saw Tom Court, who has made his name as a loosehead prop at Ulster, brought on at tighthead.
Best recalled: “In 2012, we got beaten up (in the scrum) to put it mildly and it cost us the game.
“We had a starting loosehead to come in and stop a scrum going backwards. It wasn’t fair on him (Court), he was scapegoated. We weren’t good as an eight that day.
“England started the game really well, put pressure on us and when you’re going backwards at the start, no matter what you do to change it, the referee has already got a perception that England, in that case, were stronger and we struggled to stop that.
“But we’ve seen enough from (current tighthead) Marty Moore that he is more than adequate to come on and do a job. Our bench has shown impact and we know we’re going to do that again.
“This Irish scrum has evolved a lot. It’s going to be another massive test on Saturday and that will show just how much it has evolved.”
Under the guidance of forwards coach John Plumtree and scrum coach Greg Feek, Ireland’s set piece structures have been reliable and effectual during their most recent Tests against New Zealand, Scotland and Wales.
With much focus on the scrum in the build-up to this weekend’s round 3 tie, Best has growing confidence in Ireland’s front row resources and is looking forward to locking horns with old rival Dylan Hartley.
“It’s the one area of the game where you’re head-to-head with your opposite number. It’s a really physical battle. It’s a battle of strength but also of will, a mental battle,” the 31-year-old said of the scrum.
“It’s great that the scrum has come back in vogue again. You ask any front row and they’ll tell you if you scrum well, you finish well on the scoreboard. If you ask anyone with numbers four to 15, they would completely disagree with you.
“England have a very good scrum and no matter who they get in, whoever takes (the injured) Dan Cole’s shirt, they are going to be very tough. It will take a lot of homework to make sure we are on the money there to break them down.
“In the last couple of games, that (the set piece) is what England base their game on and pride themselves on. Their scrum has gone well, their lineout has been exceptional. We know we need to, at worst, match that.
“If you want to win games, especially away from home, we have to be dominant up front. It’s a massive challenge for us – arguably the toughest – but one, as forwards, we look forward to.”
England hooker Hartley, who was their most-capped player (51 caps) in the squad that beat Scotland, is a reformed character this season according to Best.
“He has got this name as being, sort of, not that nice a fella but off the pitch he’s a great guy.
“On the pitch he’s a competitor and he’ll do anything in his power to make sure his team don’t lose and in the past that has boiled over a little bit.
“But certainly this year you take your hat off to him. He’s come back stronger than ever, he’s playing a very hard, physical game. We’ve always got on pretty well.”
Coming back ‘stronger than ever’ is a phrase that applies very much to Best himself, who is set to become the most-capped Ulsterman of all-time on Saturday – winning his 73rd Ireland cap, one more than his former team-mate and current Ulster director of rugby David Humphreys.