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Paul O'Connell fears England on 'verge of a big performance'

By PA
Paul O'Connell /PA

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Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell fears Guinness Six Nations title rivals England are “on the verge of a big performance”.

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Andy Farrell’s side must win at Twickenham next weekend to keep alive their quest for championship glory.

Eddie Jones’ hosts are in a similar situation to the Irish, having registered two wins and a loss so far, with both sides attempting to overhaul Grand Slam-chasing France.

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After defeat to Scotland in round one of the tournament, new-look England recovered to brush aside perennial wooden spoon winners Italy before stuttering past Wales last time out.

O’Connell, who won three times at the home of English rugby as a player, is braced for major test and admits Ireland need to refine all areas of their play.

“We need to improve everywhere,” he said. “We’re going to Twickenham with a full crowd.

“England I think are just bubbling and are just on the verge of a big performance, so every part of what we do needs to be done better.

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“There isn’t any one particular area but everything just needs to be a little bit more accurate. One of the big things when we’re away from home is just being calm. That’s one of the big things for the lads.

“There’s never any lack of intent, or passion, or emotion when these boys play for Ireland. It’s just being calm on the big occasion.”

Ireland dispatched depleted Italy on Sunday to make it 14 Dublin wins from 15 under head coach Farrell.

Away games have proved far trickier during the Farrell era, with triumphs at Murrayfield and Rome the only two victories from seven fixtures on the road.

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Two of those defeats came at Twickenham in 2020.

Hooker Rob Herring, who returned from a calf issue as a replacement against the Azzurri and is competing with Dan Sheehan for a start, believes a big away success is the next step for the team’s development.

“It’s massively important for us,” said South Africa-born Herring.

“Going away to England, we challenge ourselves to play the game we want to play and not be afraid we do that.

“To do it away from home in a cauldron like Twickenham, the atmosphere there, it’s a different experience.

“For the growth of the group it’ll be really good for us to go and put in a good performance.”

Ireland’s preparations have been hit by the loss of prop Andrew Porter for the remainder of the tournament due to an ankle issue.

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Fellow front-rower Ronan Kelleher was already ruled out after sustaining a shoulder problem in the round-two defeat to France, leaving Herring competing with Sheehan for the number two shirt.

“I think hooker is a very competitive position throughout Ireland at the moment,” said the Ulster man.

“The last Six Nations I was starting a few games, guys have come in and taken their chances. I think we have a group here where we’re all trying to push each other on.

“I want to be fighting for that jersey and want to be starting but on any given week I’ll do whatever role the team needs me to do.

“They’re good blokes (Sheehan and Kelleher), and we all work hard together to try and improve the group.”

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