Six Nations 2014 – New Faces, Auld Enemies


Regardless of Ireland’s success rate in a given Six Nations, there is always that bit of buzz about the England fixture. National history, sporting history, bragging rights, whatever. These two teams bring out an intensity in each other that’s hard to find in any other game. Ireland had their purple patch against England in the mid noughties and now, since 2011, England have begun their own, with Ireland seeking revenge for a 2012 humiliation in Twickenham. As if we needed more impetus…

A lot has changed for both sides even in comparison to last year however. Ireland now have an international standard front row on their bench, rather than a loose head playing tight, and England are now the ones looking sparse in this area, Dan Cole has withdrawn with injury leaving them with David Wilson starting on the back of forty seven minutes of rugby this year, and Henry Thomas warming the bench having been deemed not ready for a start of this magnitude. England also find George Ford making his debut should he come on from the bench. This is where some intrigue lies, though he may not have time to show much. There’s no denying he has been more than solid for Bath, and a new fly half can bring a great spark to a team. Injury to Owen Farrell would likely be the only thing to give him the required platform however.

For Ireland, the changes are somewhat surprising. Most expected Donncha Ryan would represent the only change, coming in for Dan Tuohy on the bench. Joe Schmidt has however switched Henderson to second row cover, bringing Jordi Murphy into the replacements in place of Tommy O’Donnell. You would have to say O’Donnell can feel hard done by, much like Luke Marshall for the Welsh fixture. But it would appear that Schmidt is pulling a card akin to Declan Kidney in 2009, although the opposition doesn’t allow for as many dramatic changes. Much like the game itself, it’s a fifty fifty call between the physicality of O’Donnell and Murphy.

The Simon Zebo issue has raised much debate thus far, most at a loss to see why a player that comes back from injury as strongly as he does doesn’t fit into the squad somehow. I suggest the conspiracy theories be parked, quite simply there’s no room for him, and rather than relegate him as another tackle bag holder, Schmidt sees the merit in keeping him on release to his province. Yes, Zebo holds an X factor, is that what we need to beat England? No, we need a focus from the pack akin to last November, and we need sturdy wingers who can challenge the inexperienced but young and athletic English back line in defence.

With two games won, and that points difference, every game now is a title decider for Ireland. A win on Saturday combined with a minor threat from Ital and the cards are certainly falling in Irish favour. The bookies give it in the favour of the home side, but apart from home advantage and track record of recent years it’s hard to see why. This is a new Ireland team, for a lot of areas it’s a new England team. Expect this to be heated, intense, and nerve shredding. As it always should be.

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