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Five key talking points ahead of England's World Cup warm-up against Ireland

Published 04/09/2015

Will Sam Burgess prove himself as a line breaker for England?
Will Sam Burgess prove himself as a line breaker for England?

England host Ireland in the final Rugby World Cup warm-up match with both sides keen to avoid two consecutive Test defeats.

Here, Press Association Sport looks at five key talking points for Saturday's Twickenham showdown.

WILL WARM-UP FORM REALLY AFFECT WORLD CUP PERFORMANCE?

Wales boss Warren Gatland was at his mischievous best in midweek, claiming neither England nor Ireland will want to kick-off the World Cup off the back of two-straight Test losses.

Whoever suffers defeat at Twickenham on Saturday will do just that, after England lost 25-20 to France in Paris and Wales turned Ireland over 16-10 in Dublin.

England coach Stuart Lancaster and Ireland counterpart Joe Schmidt have both been at pains to downplay Gatland's barbs, but still, neither man will want to carry that millstone into the global battle.

CAN ENGLAND SOLVE THEIR SET-PIECE SHORTCOMINGS?

Exeter-bound lock Geoff Parling has been drafted in to captain England's lineout and solve the problems that troubled Lancaster's side in that Paris defeat to France.

Straight-talking Parling has hit out at perceived over-the-top criticism of England's lineout, especially where hooker Tom Youngs' throwing is concerned.

England are of course without confrontational hooker Dylan Hartley, the Northampton front-rower exiled from the World Cup squad after one too many bans for indiscipline.

Parling and company are also fighting to reassert their scrummaging status too after patchy showings across their warm-up fixtures.

Ireland have been rock-solid at both scrum and lineout across their back-to-back RBS 6 Nations victories, so a strong showing from England would go a long way to easing fraying tensions.

CAN SAM BURGESS OPEN UP A TEST BACKLINE?

England's Rugby League convert will have another chance to impress in the closing stages off the bench against Ireland.

In his Twickenham bow against France, "Slammin' Sam" brought all his physicality to bear, making several crowd-pleasing hits.

Show-stopping tackles are all well and good however, but England still crave a truly fluent, line-breaking midfield.

Burgess has been praised for his unsung work in attack, cutting astute dummy lines off the ball.

For the former South Sydney superstar to transfer that status across the codes, however, he will need to sparkle with ball in hand too.

CAN SIMON ZEBO HOLD HIS OWN AT FULL-BACK?

Ireland boss Schmidt was expected to field his strongest-available side to face England, and in many senses that is certainly the case.

But frontline full-back Rob Kearney is the notable omission, with Munster flyer Simon Zebo handed another chance to impress in the 15 shirt.

Zebo will be chasing a starting berth on the wing for the big World Cup battles, but for now must make do with continuing to hone his skills in his role as Kearney's understudy.

The British and Irish Lions star fared well enough at full-back in Ireland's 28-22 victory over Scotland in Dublin, but standing as the last defensive line against England at Twickenham is likely to be an entirely new proposition.

CAN TADHG FURLONG MAKE A FIST OF HIS SWITCH TO LOOSEHEAD PROP?

Ireland prop Mike Ross described moving from one side of the scrum to the other as "like trying to write with your left hand".

Trading tighthead for loose or vice-versa remains one of rugby's routes least travelled, but that has not stopped Schmidt tasking Leinster's 22-year-old Tadhg Furlong with that very job.

Furlong has leapfrogged Michael Bent into Ireland's World Cup squad as the man to provide cover for both sides of the front-row.

That allows Ireland to select five props, not six, freeing up valuable resources elsewhere.

But while Furlong can be expected to cope if called at tighthead, slotting in at loosehead is an entirely new challenge altogether.

The fast-improving front-rower should know by Saturday night just how fixed he is for a massive World Cup challenge.

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