Can everyone please stop reminding me that Ireland beat the All Blacks? I know they did… they beat them in a friendly match.
Everyone’s telling me how Ireland are going to wipe the floor with England in Dublin on Saturday. I’m not so sure.
Why? Mako Vunipola’s back, Billy Vunipola’s back, Maro Itoje is playing like a superhuman and Jamie George is starting at hooker. Those four guys have been flying at Saracens and, despite what everyone’s saying, they have the firepower to break the best defences in the world.
My gut feeling is that England will win by two points – Maro Itoje is playing like a superhuman
Don’t get me wrong, Ireland are a very good side. They are ranked second in the world but suddenly they’re the team being chased. That pressure does funny things to you. England, meanwhile, had a poor 2018 by their standards and they will relish their new ‘underdog’ tag.
England won’t be afraid of going to the Aviva Stadium. Dublin’s an unbelievable place to play rugby. It’s intense, passionate and it feels a bit like a party. It’s not like Cardiff, where you turn up and every man and his dog hates you.
My gut feeling is that England will win by two points and they’ll enjoy a quiet pint of Guinness on the flight home. They won’t be drinking the city dry like we did two years ago!
Kick returns, box kicks, Garryowens, high balls. You name it, Ireland do it. The sheer number of balls that were kicked in the air is my standout memory of playing in Dublin. As tight-five forwards, we were just shuttling back and forth as the ball was kicked from one end of the pitch to the other. Sometimes it felt like a pre-season fitness drill.
It’s a huge weapon for Ireland because a lot of their players have big Gaelic football backgrounds. Conor Murray’s kicks are always on the money. He’s probably the best in the world at that part of the game and their back-three players are the best at chasing them to get the ball back.
If they don’t retrieve it, they are putting territory pressure on England. John Mitchell said this week that it’s boring. I disagree. It’s just the way they play and they’re pretty damn good at it.
The emphasis is on Elliot Daly to deal with Ireland’s kicking threat but it’s not about one man
A lot of the emphasis is on Elliot Daly to deal with that kicking threat but, as cliched as it sounds, it’s not about one man.
A huge responsibility is on the forwards retreating and escorting Ireland’s players away from the ball legally. They need to be quickly in to support and stop the opposition from counter-rucking.
I might have picked Mike Brown. There is no one better in the game at dealing with the high ball. Personally, I’d like to see Daly start in the centres alongside Manu Tuilagi, but if England can get their kick receipt right, Daly will have a chance to shine.
KEY BATTLE: JAMIE GEORGE v RORY BEST
On the 2017 Lions tour, I learned Rory Best is exceptionally good at a game which involves sticking toothpicks into your head.
He’s also one of the most artful scrummagers when it comes to hooking the ball back to provide quick ball for the scrum-half.
The relationship between Murray and Best’s foot is like clockwork. Best’s squat height helps him strike the ball so George has got to use his superior strength and weight. When Best lifts his foot off the ground, George will want to get a big snap on him.
You’ve got 16 feet on the ground on both sides. If one side has only got 15 feet on the ground, then that acts as a pressure release. It all comes down to your timing.
Ireland’s Rory Best (left) is one of most artful scrummagers when it comes to hooking ball back
Tadhg Furlong v Mako Vunipola will be another subplot at the scrum. Furlong is talked about as the best prop in the world at the moment, but I don’t think he’s the complete package at scrum time.
Jerome Garces is the referee and he penalises the scrum less than any other tier one official, but his most common penalty is for the tighthead collapsing it.
If Mako can apply enough pressure on Furlong and force him to collapse, then England will be in business.
Romain Poite will be on the touchline and he’ll be keeping a beady eye out for any dodgy angles or dingly binds.
One or two penalties at scrum time might be the difference in what is usually a low-scoring affair at the Aviva.
England’s Jamie George has got to use his superior strength and weight against Best
One of the most amusing scenes on the Lions tour was watching Johnny Sexton lose his rag at Dan Cole. No one loses their rag at Dan Cole!
Sexton is a perfectionist. He’s intense and if you don’t know your job, he’ll realise that you don’t know your job and he’ll tell you in no uncertain terms.
In the week before the final Test, the Veg were running against the first team on the Thursday and Cole accidentally wiped out Johnny.
It’s fair to say that he’s got a little bit of the Irish anger.