England arrived in Dublin two years ago with Six Nations titles already in the bag, but they were denied back-to-back Grand Slams and a record 19th consecutive victory.
Joe Schmidt’s side have gone from strength to strength since bringing England back down to earth with a 13-9 win in 2017 and celebrated St Patrick’s Day in style last March by ending a nine-year wait for a Grand Slam at Twickenham.
There was also a first Test series win in Australia for 39 years in June and a sensational maiden home triumph over world champions New Zealand.
With meticulous attention detail, Schmidt has turned Ireland into a huge force and they will be expected to mount a strong challenge at the Rugby World Cup in Japan in September before the end of his reign.
But first things first, the wily New Zealander’s immediate sights are firmly on back-to-back Six Nations titles and his team look well-equipped to make a huge statement by pulling off another clean sweep.
They have been beaten just once in 19 matches – against Australia last June – and although Eddie Jones said the champions have weaknesses to exploit, that will be easier said than done.
Joe Schmidt and Eddie Jones have enjoyed some battles over the years ?
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) January 25, 2019
The England head coach stated he is expecting a “fairly predictable, methodical game” with “a few surprises” from Ireland, but he knows full well that the holders continue to evolve and will take some stopping.
While rapid line speed, a dominant set-piece and a ruthless approach at the breakdown continue to lay the foundations, Schmidt’s side possess plenty of x-factor to hurt any opponent.
Jacob Stockdale was the player of the tournament and leading try-scorer in the Six Nations last year, while Schmidt has such strength in depth that he is able to unleash the likes of Jordan Larmour from the bench.
Ireland now have the World Rugby Player of the Year in the form of Johnny Sexton and, even if he is absent, Joey Carbery can slot in seamlessly.
Three Irish provinces qualified for the quarter-finals of the European Rugby Champions Cup and the national team will be expected to carry on where they left off in 2018 when they face England in a blockbuster showdown.
And it would be no surprise to see more raucous Grand Slam celebrations in Cardiff on the eve of St Patrick’s Day, when Ireland finish their campaign with what could be a decisive clash against Wales.
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