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England will be confident of proving their recent struggles are nothing more than a blip


Elliot Daly

Elliot Daly


Eddie Jones

Eddie Jones



Elliot Daly

It was a close-run thing, though England's defining moment last weekend was not without a considerable Irish input.

In that epic encounter with France, Maro Itoje's late surge for the line not only saved his side from having to arrive in the final round with just one win behind them but also atoned for his hefty contribution in the penalty-fest which marked the controversial loss to Wales.

But the Irish input? Referee Andrew Brace went upstairs to TMO Joy Neville and reckoned that his on-field decision was no try as Itoje had been smothered by French bodies.

Neville, though, was sure that the Saracens lock had got there and so the try was awarded. It was a huge call, Ireland's call if you like, as not only did it allow England to trash France's Grand Slam ambitions but offered an embattled Eddie Jones some form of solace from what has been a truly downbeat Six Nations.

Victory at the Aviva will bring some notion of respectability from three wins out of five, and the possibility of a top-half finish in the table, though however it pans out there will still be an inescapable feeling of failure for Jones et al to contemplate.

So, beating Ireland is primarily about restoration of pride and the theory that this England team have hit nothing more than a temporary blip which brought about the surprising reverses to the Scots - at Twickenham of all places - and Welsh.

The situation at Saracens has not been helpful. Billy Vunipola looked well off the pace in the opener with Scotland while lack of game time has not been helpful for Owen Farrell, Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and even Itoje.

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There will be much sifting of embers after the tournament ends with some of Jones' selections also coming under scrutiny but, for now, the plan will be to wrap up by performing another bullying job on Ireland to rack up a fifth straight win - including the World Cup warm-up and Nations Cup - over them.

They certainly have the personnel to do it with the Saracens players now in the groove again and Warren Gatland keeping an especially close eye on how Farrell and Itoje are faring.

With Tom Curry in rampaging form and Billy Vunipola getting back in his stride, Jones will reckon that Ireland can be bettered again up front.

And though the loss of Henry Slade is significant in terms of strong carrying - Elliot Daly is now at 13 - the sharpness of Ben Youngs, the interplay between George Ford and Farrell, as well as the running skills brought by Anthony Watson and Jonny May, all offer England cutting edge behind their eight.

After France, thanks to that Irish call, they will believe that another win awaits.

Belfast Telegraph

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