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Ireland legends back Schmidt's Six Nations men for Grand Slam

By Allan Preston

Irish rugby legends have backed Joe Schmidt's men to conquer England on St Patrick's Day to claim Ireland's third ever grand slam.

Thousands of Ireland fans lucky enough to secure tickets will flock to Twickenham tomorrow hoping to witness history.

Former Ireland international Maurice Field remembers his own "daunting" debut in Twickenham in the 1990s but feels confident of the current squad's quality.

"It's a massive game but Ireland are very much focused on what they have to do," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"England have lost twice now against France and Scotland and (England manager) Eddie Jones' honeymoon period is now over.

"The press are starting to turn a wee bit on him with the brash statements he's been making.

"I had a lovely experience going to Twickenham for my first cap - it's a daunting place to go. But Joe Schmidt has a very level head and will tell them to go out and enjoy it.

Predicting a "brutal" battle against England, he says the confidence of emerging Ireland stars such as Armagh-born Jacob Stockdale and Garry Ringrose will prove crucial.

"It used to be a squad of 15 internationals, with about four others on the bench," he said.

"Joe Schmidt now has about 30 players across all the provinces that can seamlessly slot into the way Ireland are playing.

"Jacob Stockdale has been criticised for defensive lapses but it doesn't matter, he's scoring tries for fun. It's brilliant for him and other young players coming through."

Former Ireland captain Paddy Johns added his praise for Stockdale's sensational debut.

"He's been absolutely fantastic - he's the find of the tournament," he said.

"It's unbelievable for a young fella to debut with that impact."

Confident of a victory, he predicted Ireland can finish ahead by seven points.

"Eddie Jones has just given the guys too much fodder and all the Irish supporters will be cheering extra loud over there, no one likes to be called scummy," he said.

Trevor Ringland, former Ireland and Lions player, admitted he was worried about an English rebound after a bad season.

"Joe Schmidt has prepared a good Irish side," he said.

"They're confident and playing with assurance and they've strength in the bench which is very important.

"It's a momentous occasion, the chance to have the Grand Slam for only the third time in Irish Rugby history."

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