It is decision day in the RBS 6 Nations and although Ireland are out of contention for silverware, Brian O’Driscoll and his team-mates are determined to sign off in style by beating Grand Slam hopefuls England.
2011 RBS 6 NATIONS CHAMPIONSHIP: Saturday, March 19
IRELAND (4th) v ENGLAND (1st), Aviva Stadium, 5pm (live RTÉ Two/BBC One)
Team News: There are two changes in personnel in the Ireland back-line and also a positional switch. Keith Earls moves to full-back in place of Luke Fitzgerald.
Andrew Trimble comes into the team on the left wing for his first start in this year’s Championship. Jonathan Sexton will start the game at out-half, with Ronan O’Gara moving to the replacements bench.
Eoin Reddan has been passed fit to start at scrum half, having recovered from the concussion he received in last Saturday’s match against Wales.
The Ireland pack is unchanged for the fourth successive game, with lock Paul O’Connell set to win his 75th cap.
Commenting on the team selection, head coach Declan Kidney said: “If Luke has made any errors recently it’s probably because he’s tried too hard. He’s probably been outstretching himself and his timing is just a small bit off.
“Andrew has been knocking on the door for quite some time, Keith has been going well and I just think it’s a good combination for us to have this weekend.
“Andrew was showing great form up to the Six Nations, he was going really well for Ulster and then picked up an unfortunate bang. He’s fought his way back through matches with Ulster and training with ourselves to justify his place.
“We’ve two good number 10s in Jonathan and Ronan. In the same way that I felt after the French match that it was right to give Ronan a go there, he got the next two…I just feel it’s the right time to give Jonathan a start here.”
Brian O’Driscoll, who will captain Ireland for the 75th time this weekend, added: “I’m really looking forward to Saturday. You always look forward to playing against the best sides and more often than not England are one of those.
“It’s the first game for them at the Aviva Stadium. It’s been a bit of a topsy turvy Six Nations for us, so hopefully we can finish off with a good performance and the result to match.”
Meanwhile, Bath’s Matt Banahan will start for England in their final game of the RBS 6 Nations Championship against Ireland.
Banahan takes over from the injured Mike Tindall and will win his 11th England cap at the Aviva Stadium.
His inclusion is the only change to the side that beat Scotland 22-16 last Sunday, with Saracens’ David Strettle drafted onto the replacements bench.
Strettle made a try-scoring debut against Ireland at Croke Park in 2007 and is set to make his first appearance since facing New Zealand in Auckland in 2008.
Nick Easter from Harlequins, who took over the captaincy after Tindall suffered an ankle ligament injury against Scotland, leads the side again.
Mark Cueto will reach a personal milestone when he wins his 50th cap for England, six-and-a-half years after making his debut against Canada in 2004.
Meanwhile, Tindall will have further specialist assessment next week on the left ankle ligament injury that has ruled him out of Saturday’s Grand Slam decider.
Along with the injured Lewis Moody, he will be with the squad in Dublin and the England medics will continue to liaise with their Gloucester counterparts on his treatment.
IRELAND: Keith Earls (Thomond/Munster); Tommy Bowe (Ospreys), Brian O’Driscoll (UCD/Leinster) (capt), 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), Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster), Donncha O’Callaghan (Cork Constitution/Munster), Paul O’Connell (Young Munster/Munster), Sean O’Brien (Clontarf/Leinster), David Wallace (Garryowen/Munster), Jamie Heaslip (Naas/Leinster).
Replacements: Sean Cronin (Buccaneers/Connacht), Tom Court (Malone/Ulster), Leo Cullen (Blackrock College/Leinster), Denis Leamy (Cork Constitution/Munster), Peter Stringer (Shannon/Munster), Ronan O’Gara (Cork Constitution/Munster), Paddy Wallace (Ballymena/Ulster).
ENGLAND: Ben Foden (Northampton Saints); Chris Ashton (Northampton Saints), Matt Banahan (Bath), Shontayne Hape (Bath), Mark Cueto (Sale Sharks); Toby Flood (Leicester Tigers), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers); Alex Corbisiero (London Irish), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Louis Deacon (Leicester Tigers), Tom Palmer (Stade Francais), Tom Wood (Northampton Saints), James Haskell (Stade Francais), Nick Easter (Harlequins) (capt).
Replacements: Steve Thompson (Leeds Carnegie), Paul Doran-Jones (Gloucester), Simon Shaw (London Wasps), Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers), Danny Care (Harlequins), Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon), David Strettle (Saracens).
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Owens, Tim Hayes (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Giulio de Santis (Italy)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ireland to win: 13/8; Draw: 25/1; England to win: 8/15
Pre-Match Quotes: Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland) – “Any time we play England there’s great passion. It’s a big game, more so for England because there’s a Grand Slam in prospect, but from our own point of view, it’s another chance to play top class opposition.
“We also have big motivation in that we lost our only other home game in this Six Nations to France and we don’t want to lose two from two. If we needed added impetus, that will be right up there.
“When you win two and lose two and don’t have anything tangible to play for – we’re not going to win a Championship or Triple Crown – it’s an opportunity to build something heading into an important six or seven-month period (ahead of the World Cup)..
“We’d prefer to win more game than we lose in this Six Nations and that’s what this game gives us the opportunity to do.
“It might not happen for us in this Six Nations and we’ve run out of games, but we feel that if we keep working as hard as we have done, it will eventually happen for us.
“We’ve been good for 30, 40 or 50 minutes, but not that full 80. I genuinely believe that (a big) performance is in us and is waiting to come out.
“England will be realistic. They have a manager in Martin Johnson who has been there and done it. He’ll be telling them that nothing’s owed to them.
“They’ll have to grab it and they’ll treat the game much like we are – as just another 80 minutes. What will come after that final whistle will come.”
Martin Johnson (England) – “We need a healthy edge, that is a good thing and we play better with that. It comes from the fact we are playing a very good Ireland team away from home and the final game and the position we are in. There will be a big buzz about the game.
“We have talked about it all week. We just need to give it a crack (on Saturday). We know the pitfalls of playing these guys and we can’t fall into them.
“Our guys are as excited as they’ve been for any game this year. We see this as an opportunity more than anything.
“We have an opportunity to win a Grand Slam and that’s a great place to be, that’s where we want to be going into a big game. These guys are ready to really have a crack.
“I think we have put down some markers (in the Championship) and if we can finish it off on Saturday it will be great.
“We have been in two or three really close games and have just managed to keep ourselves the right side of it. Ireland haven’t and they’ve lost them.
“The pressure is probably on them in a way, in this situation. They’ve had a couple of disappointing results. I think there’s more pressure on them than there is on us.
“We’ve got pressure on us every game and we’re not denying that. But it’s an opportunity for us this week and we’re looking forward to it. Everything comes around to performing, whatever way you look at it.
“Days like this are about being able to control the ball in the heat of the game and the heat of the battle and giving ourselves opportunities. If we do that, then we need to take them.”
Top Scorers – 2011 RBS 6 Nations: Ireland – Points: Ronan O’Gara 24; Tries: Jamie Heaslip, Brian O’Driscoll 2 each; England – Points: Toby Flood 47; Tries: Chris Ashton 6
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