Rugby fans across the board will be relishing the prospect of a titanic clash decorated with tradition when Ireland meet England at Twickenham on Saturday.
Eddie Jones’ charges held on for a hard-fought, 4-point victory against Wales in Round 3:
"It was a very good win for us, plenty of resilience, plenty of toughness," Jones said.
"We put ourselves in a good winning position in the first 50 minutes, had a period of 20 minutes where we were untidy in our defence and let them back in the game, but then the last few minutes I thought we were exceptional, for a young team that is developing I thought there were good signs out there.
"We've got young guys and they have to learn how to deal with these situations," he added. "A Test match against Wales is a completely different beast to anything you have in your life, so that is a great learning experience.”
As expected, the Irish thumped Italy in Dublin, 57-6:
“There’s not too many times we’ve played an international match against 12 players,” said Ireland boss Andy Farrell post-match. “There’s plenty we can take away from it.
“At the start of the game, getting off to a good start. Going up seven points is a nice enough start, then I thought we started to overplay a little bit. I thought Italy defended really well. They were aggressive in defence and that was before they went down to 13 men.
“Because of our lack of accuracy and obviously their tenaciousness in defence, I thought there were a few errors that we could have tidied up before the situation happened with 13 men. Then we get to that point with 13 men. It is just weird.
“We understand why the rule was brought in, but at the same time in situations like that and occasions like that, it will bring the rule back to everyone’s attention and they’ll look at it.
“The space that you think is there, they’re obviously always going to throw caution to the wind and kamikaze style defence at times, where they were flying up off the line. Hitting us man-and-ball, putting our skills under pressure. We needed to be calmer and more accurate.”
The last encounter between these two giants of Europe ended with a dominant Irish victory at the Aviva Stadium – a result which Jones and co. will be eager to avenge as the World Cup draws nearer.
Ireland’s win over Italy, it has to be said, will build confidence, but was not the ideal preparation for England away. A stiffer challenge from a more robust opposition would have left the men in green in a better condition. Although the enormity of the old rivalry will, of course, not be lost on the players, the battle-hardened state of the English after their gritty contest with Wales will render the former in top shape for what will be another strenuous match-up.
Mind games or not, Eddie Jones began the week by pouring praise on the Irish.
“Ireland are favourites for the game, they’ve been in very good form in the autumn, they’re a very settled team, and very well-coached by Andy Farrell.
“And apart from Andrew Porter I think they’ve got everybody available and ready to go.
“They are literally, and I say this without any hesitation, the most cohesive side in the world.
“The bulk of their team train together for the bulk of the year.
“So they are very well-coordinated in their attack, they are very structured, they’re very sequenced in set plays. And they’re tough around the breakdown.
“So that poses a great challenge for us. But we’re looking forward to the challenge, we’re not intimidated by any team and we’re looking forward to playing against them.”
In response to Jones' chat, Farrell said:
"Eddie has said plenty of times in the past that praise makes you weak," he said.
"We make sure that we take care of our own house and prepare properly and be ready to perform."
Farrell is very well-acquainted with Jones, having played under him and also coached with him.
When asked what he thought Jones’ goal was with his comments, the 46 year-old Farrell said:
“I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what it is and I don’t care, to be fair.
“I love Eddie’s comments," Farrell continued, smiling. "I love reading them.
"I think it’s great for the game. I love his character and charisma, I’ve learned a lot off him.
"I’ve worked under him. I’ve been a captain of a side for him. I’ve been in his company.
"But in answer to your question, I don’t see the need. I don’t get it sometimes, but I like reading it. I think it’s intriguing."
Despite touting Ireland as the team to back this weekend, Jones also insists that his charges have what it takes to put them to the sword.
“There’s no reason why we can’t,” he said. “We’re in a perfect position, aren’t we? They’re flying high, we can’t get our own way or past the barrier according to most journalists. They’re flying down the home straight and we’ve got to catch them, so it’s a great opportunity.
“We go into the game knowing they’re a good team – we’re a young but very, very good team and our best is yet to come. We’re building and building in the right direction.”
The last encounter between England and Ireland at Twickenham was during the 2020 Autumn Nations Series:
It can be safely said that the Irish unit taking the pitch this weekend has come on in leaps and bounds since that match, a notion echoed by Ireland fullback Hugo Keenan.
“We’ve taken so many strides, obviously a lot more experience in the group now.
“It was one of my first games, Caelan’s (Doris) first games. It was still a relatively early point in the new coaching staff’s campaign, so we’ve come on hugely.
“We’ve shown that in the autumn and in the last couple of games.
“I still don’t think we are at our potential and that’s the exciting part. There’s more in us. We’ve been showing it in glimpses, but it’s about consistency so, yeah, it’s exciting.”
Eddie Jones has named a strong outfit to do battle with the Irish – captained by Courtney Lawes on the flank. A significant development in the English side is the return of workhorse flanker Sam Underhill.
Interestingly, Jones has opted for Sam Simmonds at number 8 instead of the barnstorming Alex Dombrandt, possibly indicating that the English are expecting a mammoth battle at the breakdown.
“We’ve been looking at this game as a semi-final. Ireland are the most cohesive side in the world right now and it will be a good test this weekend.
“We’ve prepared really well for this game. We did some good team togetherness work in Bristol and had a solid week of training on the pitch here.
“We are looking forward to going after them in front of a great home crowd at Twickenham. It’s been special having 82,000 supporters back in for our Six Nations games and it will be a great Test match for them.”
With regard to the Irish squad, Johnny Sexton returns to captain the side in what will be his 104th Test and Cian Healy’s 115th.
This will mark the 139th Test between these two proud rugby nations in a rivalry rich in history and tradition. England are an especially difficult animal in front of their passionate home crowd, but (whether tactical or not) Eddie Jones has hit the proverbial nail on the head when he identified the cohesiveness and balance being displayed by the Irish side at present. The latter might be slightly undercooked after their romping victory over the Italians, but the enormity of this occasion alone – never mind in the context of the competition as a whole – is due to put the men in green on their toes.
The battles in the forwards and backlines will be something to behold. Up front, the scrums and breakdown will be viciously contested by hard men on both sides. Tadhg Furlong’s battle with Ellis Genge will be immense while necks at Twickenham will be craned to observe the challenge of Maro Itoje and Charlie Ewels to Tadhg Beirne and James Ryan in the engine room.
Perhaps the most significant individual match-up of the day will come in the forms of the experienced and wily Johnny Sexton and the exciting young talent that is Marcus Smith.
All things considered, this is indeed shaping up to be a mouth-watering encounter which will be savoured by fans across the rugby world.