Pride and Lions places are at stake when Ireland and England clash at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin to bring down the curtain on their 2021 Six Nations campaigns…
Campaign positivity on the line
Amid the understandable encouragement of England’s rousing victory over France – their finest performance and result since the 2019 World Cup – is the reality that if they lose to Ireland they will equal their worst Six Nations performances of 2005, 2006 and 2018.
As ever in the Championship, the stakes are high – a fifth successive victory over Ireland would accelerate the team away from a tricky period while defeat would invite renewed pressure on to Eddie Jones.
On the evidence available against France, England have their mojo back and should have the edge over Andy Farrell’s inconsistent charges.
Jones’ siege mentality
Even with the title out of reach, England appear suitably stirred up for the climax to the tournament with their critics in the crosshairs.
Jones has railed against the “rat poison” written about his players – he was asked about Elliot Daly’s confidence, but the response suggested there were multiple scores to settle – while prop Ellis Genge is clearly still vexed by the outcry to a record defeat by Wales in round three.
It is siege mentality psychology with a vulnerable Ireland side in the the firing line.
Daly the centre of attention
It has been an eventful Six Nations for Daly, who was deposed as first choice full-back by Max Malins after a shaky outing in Cardiff where he won his 50th cap.
Two weeks later and his blistering cameo off the bench saw one of England’s most naturally gifted players close to his dynamic best and now he finds himself reinstated to the starting XV in his so-called favourite position of outside-centre after Henry Slade sustained a calf injury.
Daly is too good not to be involved and at the Aviva Stadium he has the stage to prove his recent slump is over.
British and Irish Lions auditions
Apart from battling for bragging rights, Ireland captain Johnny Sexton knows an important sub-plot will also unfold in Dublin.
With a Lions series against South Africa scheduled to take place this summer, Sexton believes it will be a “big game in the decision-making process” as Warren Gatland finalises selection.
Wales’ Grand Slam march has put their players in the driving seat, leaving their rivals from Ireland and England to use Saturday’s clash as a final attempt to persuade Gatland they should be involved.
A number of fascinating duels are in store, and none more so than Sexton’s fly-half shoot-out with George Ford.
CJ Stander’s unexpected farewell
In a call that no one saw coming, CJ Stander will be making his final appearance for Ireland after announcing he is to retire at the end of the season.
The Munster No 8 turns just 31 next month and still has plenty to give at the highest level, but his decision is founded on an understanding of the sacrifices made by his family as he plots a return to his native South Africa.
A rugged ball-carrying back row who has propelled Ireland over the gainline year after year, he will be leaving the game at the top and will prove a huge loss.
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