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Six Nations: Ferris fired up for big finish

By Niall Crozier

Stephen Ferris versus Tom Croft on Saturday at Twickenham is shaping up to be the biggest and best head-to-head battle of the whole 2012 RBS 6 Nations Championship.

England’s 24-22 victory over France in Paris on Sunday afternoon means they still have a very slim chance of winning the title.

But for that to happen, now-demoralised France must beat Grand Slam-chasing leaders, Wales, in Cardiff (2.45), followed by an England victory over Ireland at Twickenham (5.00), both by improbably big margins.

Wales lead with eight points and a +44 points difference. England are second with six points (+6), while Ireland (+48) and France (+22) are third and fourth respectively, each on five points.

In addition to having the best for-against stats, Ireland have scored most tries — 13 to the table-toppers’ nine, England’s five and France’s eight. Tommy Bowe alone has scored as many tries as England in this series.

Ireland’s recent record at Twickenham is three wins in their past four visits, prompting England coach Stuart Lancaster to temper his post-Paris euphoria by saying: “We’ve a massive challenge this week; Ireland are playing exceptionally well at the moment, but we’re back at Twickenham and we’re looking forward to the game. St Patrick’s Day and all that is going to be a big old occasion.”

Lancaster’s record since taking over as a stop-gap coach following England’s shambolic 2011 World Cup is three wins and a controversial 19-12 home defeat by Wales.

The English players want him to be given the job and knowing that victory over Ireland would make it well-nigh impossible for the RFU to appoint someone else, they will be highly motivated.

None more so than Croft — scorer of the last of his side’s three tries against France in Paris — who was outstanding on Sunday. So, too, was Ferris the previous day in Dublin where Ireland beat Scotland 32-14.

Adding real spice to this weekend’s six-versus-six shoot-out is the fact that Croft got what many believe would have been Ferris’s place on the blindside of the 2009 British and Irish Lions’ Test team back row when injury ended the unfortunate Ulster man’s South African tour.

Looking ahead to the weekend Ferris said: “I've been fortunate to win with Ireland at Twickenham and I know that you have to be on top of your game to get a result.

“We are improving week-on-week and are happy with our set-piece, but England are strong there. They won’t concede soft tries, like Scotland did, either.

“England have a very good defence. They tend to get off the line, they put a lot of box-kicks up in the air and they have a big chase. We have to chase the box-kicks down hard and get behind them.

“Rob Kearney is going to be busy in the air again. I’d imagine he’s going to have a few high balls put on top of him.

“We (the Irish forwards) will have to get behind the boys. We just need to go over there and try to improve on our performance against Scotland. Our performances seem to be getting better so hopefully we can keep that going at Twickenham.”

Hero Croft’s reaction to England’s great achievement in Paris and the challenge to come was: “This has been a good win, but now we have another huge game against Ireland at Twickenham.

“We’ve got to go and get ourselves ready for that.”

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