Ireland have been declared as the best team in world rugby by England defence coach John Mitchell.
Mitchell’s claim comes less than a week out from the two nation’s blockbuster Six Nations clash in Dublin this week.
The 54-year-old, whose extensive coaching career has seen him take charge of the likes of the Bulls, Chiefs, London Irish, Sale Sharks, USA and New Zealand, told the Irish Times that Ireland represent a monumental challenge in England’s challenge for the Six Nations title.
“It’s our aim to win the Six Nations, but first up is Ireland and arguably they are the best team in the world,” he said.
“If you’re going to play the best team in the world, you might as well get into them straight away.
“They’ve deserved all the honours that came their way in 2018. Having them first up makes the challenge even more exciting.”
Ireland are coming into the 2019 Six Nations campaign as reigning champions after claiming their third-ever Grand Slam title last year.
Joe Schmidt’s side then went on to beat the Wallabies in a three-match series in Australia, before dispatching the All Blacks for the first time on home soil.
Their success has garnered worldwide attention, with many now considering the world’s second-ranked team to be the best side on the planet.
Mitchell is one of Ireland’s many admirers, but he is determined to not be overawed by their incline in fortunes.
“It’s a challenge that you don’t over-think, instead you walk towards it and embrace it,” he said.
“It’s always been tough playing there, but it’s even harder now because they’re a well coached side. They’re very consistent and have a process they’re very confident in.”
England are set to name their side for this weekend’s match on Thursday, and will be without the services of loose forward Jack Clifford, who has returned home after sustaining a head injury in training.
Fellow loose forward Brad Shields and winger Joe Cokanaisga are also injury doubts for this weekend’s clash, but star playmaker and captain Owen Farrell is expected to return to the side after undergoing thumb surgery.
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