Despite missing a few first choice players, England can still put a scary looking team out that will surely set a target against Italy that Ireland won’t be able to match.
The men in green may even come to rue the dying moments of their own victory over Italy last weekend as well. Not a lot has been said about it but Paolo Garbisi’s last-gasp try means that if England post a 40-point win over the Azzurri, Ireland would have to beat France by 18 points as opposed to 11 points.
That is assuming they don’t get a try bonus point, of course, and the odds are stacked against them in that respect. It isn’t often that a Shaun Edwards defence gives up one of those and Ireland have never won with a bonus point in Paris before.
The only time they’ve ever scored four tries away in France was back in the 2006 Six Nations when they were on the wrong end of a 43-31 scoreline.
This Six Nations denouement has some of the hallmarks of Super Saturday back in 2015 when Wales, Ireland and England were all vying for the title on the final day and a ridiculous number of points were scored.
Playing last, Ireland will have the advantage of knowing exactly what they have to do but that could lead to them chasing the bonus point too much and I don’t think England will be drawn into that trap of trying to rack up the points too quickly.
The characters they have in the side won’t allow that to happen and they’ll be talking about the building blocks of a performance. They won’t deviate much from what they’ve been doing for a while now and if they dominate the set piece and gainline as they have been doing, the points will come.
We didn’t see anything at all from Italy again last week that suggested they could keep the score down too much against England. They kicked the leather off the ball for most of the game so I’m sure England will have been doing a lot of unstructured kick return play in training and working on getting into their shape.
In terms of the team selection, it’s great to see Jonny Hill finally rewarded for his phenomenal form for Exeter this season. He’s been an absolute rock star in a double-winning Chiefs team and has stood out above other international players.
At the other end of the international experience spectrum, it’s great to see Ben Youngs become just the second Englishman to reach 100 caps. It’s a shame friends and family won’t be there to share it with him but he’ll just be focusing on making sure he finishes the day as Six Nations champion.
To reach a century of caps for a country with the talent and resources that England have is a magnificent achievement, not bad when you consider he started his professional career as a spotty 16-year-old playing inside me!
The one selection I am surprised about is George Furbank’s inclusion to be honest because we could have seen Anthony Watson at full-back and Ollie Thorley, who was the joint top try-scorer in the Premiership, on the wing.
Furbank had a very tough introduction to international rugby and his form hasn’t been great for Northampton since the restart but it’s good to see Eddie Jones sticking by players and giving them more chances as that hasn’t always been the case.
The Saints man is covering fly half as well, which I definitely don’t think would be the case if the opposition was anyone other than Italy. The word from inside the Northampton camp is that he’s more than capable of playing there and Jones has obviously seen things in training that the rest of us haven’t in recent months.
Furbank struggled under the high ball in his first couple of caps and he’s likely to have a fair few more of those to deal with in Rome but he and England will have plenty of opportunities to show what they can do in attack and it’s hard to see anything but a big win.
I fully expect the margin of victory to be at least 35 points for England and I just can’t see Ireland hammering this French side in Paris or beating them and scoring four tries so it looks like it’ll be a third title in five years for Eddie Jones but, given the strange events of 2020 so far, who knows what’s going to happen.
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now