Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

England must match Irish onslaught

England captain Chris Robshaw

Tom Wood has braced England for an emotionally-charged Celtic onslaught inspired by age-old rivalries when Ireland visit Twickenham on Saturday.

The RBS 6 Nations showdown is likely to have a major influence in the outcome of the title race with unbeaten Ireland still in the hunt for the Grand Slam.

Comprehensive victories over Scotland and Wales have transformed Brian O'Driscoll's men into Championship favourites, but Wood has reminded England that they must dictate how events unfold at Twickenham.

"All the Celtic teams are very emotional and when they play England they raise it," the Northampton flanker said.

"In big games they build the emotion. It's a desire to beat us that has been ingrained into them for a long time.

"Emotionally they have been brought up on it and that's a challenge in itself.

"Rugby is a very emotional game and when a team collectively brings that you have got to match it.

"This is our home and in front of our fans we want to be setting the tone in terms of enthusiasm and physicality, not the other way around."

Wood insists the reception that greets visiting teams at Twickenham is nothing like the hostility that awaits England on their travels.

"Our crowd is a very polite crowd, very passionate, and nothing like the hatred we get elsewhere," he said.

"That can be a double-edged sword because I like nothing better than being spat at.

"And when your backs are against wall, being told you're not good enough, nothing unites a team more.

"We're not asking that from our fans. We just want them to be proud of us, of what we do. And hopefully we will give them something to cheer about."

In part to help counter the fiery brand of pride that has served the Celts so well against England in the past, Stuart Lancaster's team have been attempting to re-establish their own national identity.

Wood believes measures such as studying the history of the jersey and the lives of those who have worn it before are serving them well and bristles at the suggestion it is "manufactured".

"I don't think we're manufacturing it or drumming it out of nothing, we are re-connecting with it. It's something that's within English people in general," he said.

"It's something that has been lost, gone out of focus, and we're trying to re-connect with it, try to be shining examples with it.

"We want people to look at us and see what it means to be English."

To draw greater inspiration from their support, England's players will disembark from the team bus earlier than usual when they arrive at Twickenham on Saturday.

The new route will sweep them on foot through the crowds outside the Lion Gate. It is an initiative of which Wood approves, although he does not require any further motivation himself than pulling on the jersey.

"I don't like it or dislike the idea. I'm indifferent to it. I'd run from here (the team's training camp in Surrey) if necessary," he said.

"These ideas are from guys above my pay grade who are trying to maximise the little bits and pieces, trying to optimise the Twickenham factor.

"But if you're not ready at that stage, you never will be."

Bath's David Wilson starts at tighthead prop against Ireland despite having played just 47 minutes of rugby in the last two months, filling the void left by Dan Cole's season-ending neck injury.

Wilson has just recovered from calf and back injuries, but Lancaster insists he is fit enough for a return to Test action.

"David has been fantastic in training this week and is ready to play, so there's no concern about him," England's head coach said.

"I'm very sure he'll go all right. He's an excellent tighthead and is experienced too. He's fitted seamlessly back into camp."

Uncapped fly-half George Ford has been included on the bench, replacing Brad Barritt.

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