Head coaches Joe Schmidt and Eddie Jones have both named their teams for the test in Dublin, but how many of their opponent’s squad would they want to welcome into their own ranks?
We have compiled a composite XV between the two sides, ahead of one the most eagerly-anticipated games in recent years.
- Robbie Henshaw, Ireland
Two interesting selections from Schmidt and Jones, with Henshaw and Elliot Daly both predominately centres at their province or club. Both players did make their domestic breakthroughs at 15, however, and Henshaw just edges this one with his security competing for the contested balls in the air. Having not played at 15 for Ireland recently, he also has the luxury of not having had the positional struggles that Daly faced in 2018.
- Jonny May, England
May is arguably one of the more underrated performers in an England shirt, but merits inclusion based upon both his top-end speed and finishing ability, as well as the work he puts in on the chase, making sure England’s kicking game is successful. He is predatory in defence, capable of sniffing out intercepts, and his work in the air might be the most consistent of England’s back three options.
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- Garry Ringrose, Ireland
A different type of 13 to Henry Slade, so it’s quite difficult to compare them offensively, but the Leinster centre probably has the advantage defensively, an area where the two can be effectively compared. Ringrose has an edge in mobility in that wider channel that both allows him to get up and shut down attacks from turning the corner and getting wide, as well as the lateral quickness to drift and not allow his wings to be isolated with two-on-ones. Ringrose enters the game as the number one ranked outside centre on the RPI in the Guinness PRO14 and Heineken Champions Cup.
- Bundee Aki, Ireland
At his best, Manu Tuilagi would be a certainty for this XV, whether at 12 or 13, but until he can show that ability to stay fit and perform at the highest level again after his nightmare years of injury, the impressive Aki takes the spot. That road back to the very top could well start for Tuilagi on Saturday, but he will first have to get through Aki, who has leapfrogged the Leicester Tiger during his convalescence.
- Jacob Stockdale, Ireland
It’s impossible to leave Stockdale out of the XV based on his current form, with the Ulsterman arguably the most difficult wing to contain in world rugby at the moment. He is capable of hurting England in a number of ways at the Aviva and as a target for cross-field kicks, he will fancy his chances of finding favourable match-ups and space between England’s wings and midfield.
- Jonathan Sexton, Ireland
Not an easy call, despite Sexton’s recent World Rugby Player of the Year accolade, but it feels like, at least at international level, as if he still has a slight advantage over Owen Farrell. If you took club form into the equation, you might lean the way of the Englishman, but for a composite international XV, a well-rested and cohesive Sexton is a must-pick at fly-half.
- Conor Murray, Ireland
Credit is certainly due to Ben Youngs for his consistency and effectiveness with England, but if Murray is there to be picked, the spot has to go to the Munsterman. This will be a good barometer for Youngs with half a season to go until the Rugby World Cup, as to exactly how his game stacks up against the world’s best.
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Watch: Conor Murray looks ahead to England clash
- Mako Vunipola, England
There’s a reason Vunipola was a starter for the British and Irish Lions in 2017 and his form for England has not dipped since then, despite the team in general enduring some struggles. He isn’t one of the very best scrummagers at the position, but what he offers in carrying, tackling, ball-handling and conditioning, more than makes up for that.
- Jamie George, England
Rory Best has the advantage in experience and his role as a leader within the Irish set-up should not be underestimated, but pragmatically, George is currently offering more on the pitch. His lineout throwing is more consistent, he packs more of a punch offensively and has the engine to perform all his roles to a high level for an 80-minute spell if required.
- Tadhg Furlong, Ireland
One of the easier calls in this XV, although Kyle Sinckler was one of two or three standouts for England in the autumn internationals, so the gap may be beginning to close. That said, Furlong has set standards at the position which are unlikely to see him caught anytime soon and he will relish having a crack at the English scrum, as well as keeping Ireland on the front-foot as a carrier.
- Maro Itoje, England
There are few second rows who can influence a match as broadly as Itoje does, with the Saracens lock a potential game-changer at the set-piece, the contact area and in his carrying and tackling work in the loose. His selection here is fairly straightforward and perhaps foreshadows a British and Irish Lions combination with the man to come at five.
- James Ryan, Ireland
No player has risen as fast over the last couple of years as Ryan, to the point where his inclusion here doesn’t even require a second thought, despite being up against an operator as well-rounded as George Kruis. The battle between Ryan and Itoje on Saturday afternoon will be one of the more enjoyable contests within that game.
- Peter O’Mahony, Ireland
In addition to delivering plenty of passion to the Ireland back row, O’Mahony brings unparalleled defensive lineout ability and a physicality in the tackle that all but the most powerful ball-carriers will struggle to break and create forward momentum against. He chips in with effective contributions at the breakdown, too, making him one of the more versatile and influential blindsides in international rugby.
- Josh van der Flier, Ireland
A case of having been there and done it swings this one in van der Flier’s favour, with Tom Curry coming up fast on the outside. It’s potentially a pecking order which could be re-evaluated by the end of the Six Nations, but Curry has been unlucky with a couple of injuries early in his England career, so he has yet to put together the body of work at international level to realistically oust van der Flier here.
- Billy Vunipola, England
Some of the gritty work that CJ Stander does goes largely underappreciated for Ireland, but the same can be said of Vunipola in an England jersey, with a focus on his more eye-catching work with the ball in hand. Couple that unseen work with the edge in power and explosion that Vunipola has, as well as an offloading game that England have missed during his injuries, and he just shades this contest with Stander.
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