Six Nations 2019: Ireland juggernaut will take some stopping.19 2:02pm ESTRugby Union, RBS Six Nations, News, English, Ireland, Internationals, Features, TestIreland starts the Six Nations as the favorite after a Grand Slam last year and could make a huge statement ahead of the World Cup.
The last time Ireland hosted England it was on a mission to stop a world-record-tying run, but it will be Eddie Jones’ men coming up against a juggernaut on Saturday.
England arrived in Dublin two years ago with Six Nations titles already in the bag, but was denied back-to-back Grand Slams and a record 19th consecutive victory.
Joe Schmidt’s side has 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 in 39 years in June and a sensational first home triumph over world champion New Zealand.
With meticulous attention to detail, Schmidt has turned Ireland into a huge force and the side 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 looks well-equipped to make a huge statement by pulling off another clean sweep.
Ireland has lost just once in 19 matches – against Australia last June – and although Jones said the champions have weaknesses to exploit, that will be easier said than done.
The England head coach said 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 has 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.
Losing second-rows Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne for the start of the campaign is a blow, but James Ryan and Devin Toner are a formidable pairing.
Ireland now has the World Rugby Player of the Year in Johnny Sexton and, even if he is absent, Joey Carbery can slot in seamlessly.
Three Irish provinces qualified for the quarterfinals of the European Rugby Champions Cup and the national team will be expected to carry on where it left off in 2018 when it faces 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 finishes its campaign with what could be a decisive clash against Wales.