Former captain Nick Easter is billing England’s battle with Grand Slam champions Ireland in Dublin on Saturday as the most ferocious rugby clash anyone will witness in 2019 – including the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Easter knows all about being mugged by the Irish having lost the chance of Slam glory when he led England in Dublin in 2011 and had to endure a solemn title celebration after a thumping 24-8 loss. The Irish destroyed Eddie Jones’s Slam attempt in 2017 and ended England’s World record attempt leaving them tied with New Zealand on 18 successive wins after triumphing 13-9.
Now, it is the Irish who are billed as favourites and Easter expects England to rise to the physical challenge thanks to the return of Mako and Billy Vunipola, Joe Launchbury and Manu Tuilagi to the squad.
He also wants to see former Harlequins teammate Mike Brown chosen at fullback ahead of Elliot Daly, of Wasps who had the role during the November tests to defuse the bombs that will arrive via the boots of Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray.
Easter, who has just been appointed as coaching consultant for the Durban based Sharks in Super Rugby, said; “I am struggling to think of a test match contest that could be more physical in the whole of 2019 including the World Cup compared to what will happen in Dublin on Saturday. Given the anticipation, history and fervour that will be whipped up and how fresh the two squads are feeling after a couple of weeks off means it is going to be a ferocious battle. England will know what is coming and for the first time Ireland are odds on favourites.
“I would go with Mike Brown at full back and, arguably, we would have won if he had been playing in 2015. The game is now much more a case of horses for courses and if one player suits an opposition more than it is a case of using a better strategy. If the Irish pack is going well then it makes the kicking game so much easier but I believe Owen Farrell is just as good as Johnny Sexton at putting the ball on a sixpence. I think Ben Youngs at scrumhalf needs to find a bit of form and he is going to be vital for England if they get some dominance which they are capable of achieving.
“Youngs is England’s most important player on Saturday and his box kicking and decision making has to be on the money. If Dan Robson had played the games in November then you start thinking about him starting but that wasn’t the case and I expect Youngs to be picked.
“In 2011 the senior players in the England squad in Dublin knew that facing a team with Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll it was going to be a very hard game. We just couldn’t get the emotional level to where it needed to be to deal with their passion and quality of play. We were chasing the game after 20 minutes.
“In 2015 I was on the bench and I remember their aerial threat with England missing Brown who had been concussed against Italy. They just peppered us and George Ford was in the back field and we probably should have moved things around. There was a complete lack of discipline and we just didn’t deal with the kicking game that we knew was coming. Ireland may use two or three phase plays from Joe Schmidt on Saturday but England know what is coming and it is a question of can you stop them? It is like facing Leinster and Munster and they have phenomenal strength in depth at the moment.
“They know exactly what they want to achieve and are very comfortable with their game, however, England have the Vunipola brothers back along with Joe Launchbury and Manu Tuilagi. Those guys can make a real difference in terms of X-factor and changing a game while adding a lot of physicality to proceedings. It’s a back to the walls situation for England and it comes down to are we one game shy of having the necessary cohesion. That is the only question because there is no doubt England have the quality of player to beat the Irish.”
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