By Duncan Bech, PA England Rugby Correspondent
Ireland stand on the cusp of winning their fourth Grand Slam when they meet England in the climax to the Guinness Six Nations at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
Here the PA news agency looks at five talking points heading into a match that the Irish are overwhelming favourites to win.
Let the party begin
The boss knows! #TeamOfUs | #GuinnessSixNations pic.twitter.com/79E4fDVDoL
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) March 16, 2023
The stage is set for one of the great days in Irish rugby as the side aims to complete the Grand Slam in Dublin for the first time – on St Patrick’s weekend.
The previous three have been secured in Belfast, Cardiff and London.
Expectation is at an all-time high and head coach Andy Farrell has spoken of managing “the circus” knowing England have been universally written off after their 53-10 mauling by France at Twickenham in round four.
Succumbing to the pressure of the occasion appears to be Ireland’s greatest threat on a day when they can cement their status as the world’s number one side.
United Irish lead the way
The world rankings 🌐#GuinnessSixNations pic.twitter.com/ftLyFrpcv2
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) March 14, 2023
If the script is followed at the Aviva Stadium, it will be a victory for the Irish system as much as anything else.
A production line of talent rolls out of the four provinces – led by Leinster who supply 13 of the starting XV – in a set-up optimised for their success in the United Ruby Championship and Europe, while ensuring Ireland are in the best possible position to compete at a global level.
In contrast, England’s fractious structure, combined with a precarious financial situation, undermines national interest. All while the green shirts flourish under the guidance of a proud Englishman in Farrell.
England’s minimum requirement
The most disturbing element of England’s record defeat at Twickenham was the extent of the physical mismatch, a shortcoming Ellis Genge has referenced by admitting his team lacked the necessary fight.
France were magnificent, but Steve Borthwick’s side allowed themselves to be bullied on an afternoon that could leave significant scarring. Apart from two injury-enforced changes and the adjustments at fly-half and wing, the same group has been given a shot at redemption.
Toppling rankings kingpins Ireland may be beyond this side, but showing appetite for the collisions has to be a given as some starters play for their Test futures.
🏴 The @EnglandRugby side heading to Dublin on #SuperSaturday⚡#IREvENG | #AwakenAnticipation pic.twitter.com/fVEmh91WPw
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) March 16, 2023
A sound argument can be made for Owen Farrell’s return at the expense of Marcus Smith, but the latest spin in the fly-half selection merry-go-round is beginning to look muddled.
Farrell’s bite, leadership and defensive prowess will be needed at the Aviva Stadium, although his recall is harsh on Smith who operated off the flimsiest of platforms against France.
Whatever the reasoning, continuity remains elusive in the shifting sands of the midfield where Farrell, Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade are reunited for the first time since the 2019 World Cup. Rampaging centre Tuilagi, an injury replacement for Ollie Lawrence, makes his first appearance of the Six Nations but his perfect record of six wins from six outings against Ireland will surely come to an end.
Arundell to show his X-factor
Smart thinking or a desperate throw of the dice? Only time will tell if choosing Ireland in Dublin for Henry Arundell’s first Test start is the right call, but the timing seems curious given what lies in wait on Saturday.
The explosive 20-year-old is the most exciting talent in the English game, capable of scoring spectacular tries out of nothing, but in his six caps as a replacement he has touched the ball six times in 77 minutes. To underline his finishing prowess, he has scored two tries with those six touches. For his full debut to be a showcase of his unique talent, Arundell must be given the ball – easier said than done against the ruthlessly efficient Irish.