For only the third time in international rugby history, Ireland will play a Test match on St. Patrick’s Day. Ireland lost their first March 17 match to Wales in Belfast back in 1900, while five years ago the men in green beat Italy in Rome. Will Declan Kidney’s men be able to mark the national holiday with a rousing win over England?
2012 RBS 6 NATIONS CHAMPIONSHIP: Saturday, March 17
ENGLAND (2nd) v IRELAND (3rd), Twickenham, 5pm (live RTÉ Two/BBC One)
Team News: The Ireland team and replacements to play England at Twickenham on St. Patrick’s Day in the final game of the 2012 RBS 6 Nations Championship has been named.
There is one change to the starting line-up which took to the pitch last weekend. Flanker Sean O’Brien returns to the openside berth having recovered from the skin infection which ruled him out of the win over Scotland
Peter O’Mahony, who made his first Test start against the Scots, reverts to the replacements bench.
Keith Earls and Cian Healy, team-mates from the Ireland Under-20s’ 2007 Grand Slam success, will both win their 30th senior caps on Saturday, while experienced lock Donncha O’Callaghan joins Paul O’Connell on the 85 cap mark.
Notably, stand-in captain Rory Best will become Ireland’s most-capped hooker with his 59th Test appearance for his country on Saturday.
Meanwhile, England have made one change to their starting line-up for the mouth-watering final round encounter with Ireland.
Saracens winger David Strettle has recovered from his sternum injury and takes over from Charlie Sharples on the left wing.
Among the England replacements, Bath’s Lee Mears comes in for Rob Webber, who injured a shoulder during last Sunday’s victory over France.
England head coach Stuart Lancaster said: “It seems like yesterday when we got together in Leeds in January and began a new journey for England Rugby.
“Graham (Rowntree), Andy (Farrell) and myself firmly believe in this group of players and the direction we are going.
“Saturday is another step on that road and we are looking forward to coming home to a packed Twickenham with its special atmosphere and crowd. Their support has been phenomenal and we hope we can do the whole nation proud again.”
ENGLAND: Ben Foden (Northampton Saints); Chris Ashton (Northampton Saints), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester Tigers), Brad Barritt (Saracens), David Strettle (Saracens); Owen Farrell (Saracens), Lee Dickson (Northampton Saints); Alex Corbisiero (London Irish), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Mouritz Botha (Saracens), Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers), Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins) (capt), Ben Morgan (Scarlets).
Replacements: Lee Mears (Bath), Matt Stevens (Saracens), Tom Palmer (Stade Francais), Phil Dowson (Northampton Saints), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers), Charlie Hodgson (Saracens), Mike Brown (Harlequins).
IRELAND: Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster); Tommy Bowe (Ospreys), Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster), Gordon D’Arcy (Lansdowne/Leinster), Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster); Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Eoin Reddan (Lansdowne/Leinster); Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) (capt), Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster), Donncha O’Callaghan (Cork Constitution/Munster), Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster), Stephen Ferris (Dungannon/Ulster), Sean O’Brien (Clontarf/Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Naas/Leinster).
Replacements: Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Tom Court (Malone/Ulster), Mike McCarthy (Buccaneers/Connacht), Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster), Tomas O’Leary (Dolphin/Munster), Ronan O’Gara (Cork Constitution/Munster), Fergus McFadden (Old Belvedere/Leinster).
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Jérôme Garces (France), Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Television Match Official: Jim Yuille (Scotland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): England to win: 8/11; Draw: 20/1; Ireland to win: 11/8
Pre-Match Quotes: Rory Best (Ireland) – “We know that in past we’ve had some very tough games against England and we expect nothing different tomorrow. At this level nobody particularly likes losing because we’re very competitive players.
“You only get to the top of sport by being competitive. I’ve always found that if it’s been a tough, hard game, you have that respect for each other.
“Historically England have always been there or thereabouts as Grand Slam champions. When I was growing up England dominated this tournament. Once you’re lucky enough to play for Ireland you want to beat the best and that’s what England have been.
“Unfortunately our record (of having won seven of the sides’ last eight clashes) won’t have any impact – those games are in the past. It’s all about what happens at 5pm tomorrow evening.
“As far as we’re concerned we’re playing the reigning Six Nations champions in their own back yard. They’ve won three of their four outings so we know they’re a very tough team.
“We’re looking forward to it but we’re under no illusions over the size of the challenge. The past is the past.
“England have been very efficient so far. They negotiated two banana skins against Scotland and Italy very well. They upped the level of performance against Wales and then upped it again last weekend.
“They look like a team that’s hungry to win for each other and that rings alarm bells for any team playing them. When you have that hunger to succeed, it goes a long way.”
Dylan Hartley (England) – “We’ve had a good tournament but if we don’t finish off it will undo all the good work that we’ve done. People will soon forget about the brilliant result in Paris and the tricky wins in Scotland and Italy.
“They’ll just think about the last time we played at Twickenham. We’ve learned that your last game is the one you’re remembered by. I’d like to think we can go out with a bit of a bang this week.
“Ireland have got the better of us in recent years, winning seven out of eight Championship games. We want to change that.
“Irish rugby is very strong at the moment. Ireland have got no fear. You can see that from their record at Twickenham. They’ll come here, an experienced team, thinking they can win.
“We’ve had a big change up here with England. We’re heading in the right direction. This could be the team to turn the tide.
“Last year (in Dublin), we got caught like rabbits in the headlights. We weren’t ready for them. This year we certainly won’t get caught because we’ve talked about it this week, about the mindset going into this game.”
Pre-Match Links –
Recent Meetings –
2008: RBS 6 Nations: England 33 Ireland 10, Twickenham
2009: RBS 6 Nations: Ireland 14 England 13, Croke Park
2010: RBS 6 Nations: England 16 Ireland 20, Twickenham
2011: RBS 6 Nations: Ireland 24 England 8, Aviva Stadium; Rugby World Cup Warm-Up: Ireland 9 England 20, Aviva Stadium