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England offer blistering vision of the future and kill off Ireland’s Six Nations Grand Slam hopes

Marcus Smith celebrates winning a titanic match for England
Marcus Smith celebrates winning a titanic match for England - Getty Images/Harry Murphy

England, where have you been? It’s great to have you back. The shock and awe that overwhelmed Scotland in Rome reverberated all the way to Twickenham as Steve Borthwick’s side sensationally shattered Ireland’s Grand Slam procession. Suddenly, remarkably, it is England who now have an outside chance of winning the title.

If Ireland needed a reminder of the reason why no team has yet to complete back-to-back Grand Slams in the Six Nations, England provided it in spades with a stunning victory, the best of Borthwick’s tenure and one that finally brought elation to the Twickenham faithful after years of hurt.

Borthwick’s side will require a bonus-point win against France in Lyon and Scotland to deny Ireland any match points to win their first Six Nations title since 2020 but still, suddenly the championship has sprung into life. Uncertainty and jeopardy are back on the table. And England have broken their three year run of just two Six Nations victories.

You have to go back to the World Cup semi-final victory over New Zealand at Yokohama in 2019 for England’s last front-foot display of this measure, and against such a side dripping with such quality, experience and winning nous.

Given the context, this will not only be regarded as one of the great English performances but also the moment that Steve Borthwick’s tenure finally burst into life. If the World Cup campaign was all about squeezing the last drops of performance from the remnants of Eddie Jones’ old squad, we saw a blistering look into the future under Borthwick.

And perhaps more importantly of all is that the victory cements Borthwick’s authority as England head coach. The World Cup campaign was largely unloved by England supporters, even if a third-place finish could be regarded as above par. Borthwick had been promising evolution, in both attack and defence, and here in glorious technicolour was hard-proof to back up his words.

The most famous drop-goal in English rugby may remain with Jonny Wilkinson, but Marcus Smith’s effort to clinch victory here in the final minute of the match will also be etched in history. That Danny Care, winning his 100th cap, threw the critical pass, only added to the sense of drama and substance, after James Lowe’s late try appeared to have won the game for Andy Farrell’s side.

The verve injected by Smith’s introduction from the bench, including his contributions with Immanuel Feyi-Waboso in the build-up to the definitive score suggests that the Harlequins player is likely to be promoted to the starting XV to face France on an afternoon when George Ford missed three kicks at goal.

The shackled displays of the opening three rounds, including the error-ridded defeat by Scotland at Murrayfield were blown away by a scintillating performance, underscored by a man-of-the-match display by Ben Earl, whose stunning contribution included 19 carries for a total of 140 metres and powering over for a critical second-half try. How Eddie Jones discarded him remains one of the great mysteries.

George Furbank also repaid the faith shown to him by Borthwick after a mixed display in Edinburgh, by also crossing for a try after Ireland had go against the run of play to lead 12-8 at half-time, while Immanuel Feyi-Waboso launched himself onto the international stage in a manner reminiscent of the great Jason Robinson.

The decision to start Ollie Chessum in the back row, to accommodate George Martin’s return at lock, was also inspired. Chessum was everywhere, filling the massive void left by the retirement of Courtney Lawes.

In contrast, for once Andy Farrell’s selection came unstuck, with the decision to go for a six-two bench undone by head injuries to first Calvin Nash and then Ciaran Frawley, resulting in Ireland’s dynamic catalyst Jamison Gibson-Park having to switch to the wing. Yet for all England’s dominance, Ireland had still looked on course to win the game, a sign of their champion spirit.

One wondered how England would respond when Farrell’s side finished the first half 12-8 in front after four penalties by Jack Crowley, despite being rocked by an England side playing with a vim and verve not seen in well over a year.

Ireland’s intent was clear from the start to challenge England’s blitz defence by going through the middle of the ruck with Josh van der Flier picking and going from a ruck and finding support from Tadhg Furlong, a bust that created the momentum for Crowley to open his account with a penalty.

Yet England’s response was sensational. From the restart, after England put huge pressure on James Lowe’s clearance, George Furbank countered before throwing a long pass to Tommy Freeman, who bounced off a heavy hit by Calvin Nash and England quickly recycled to put Ollie Lawrence over in the corner.

When Ireland extended their lead with the first of two tries by Lowe to establish a 17-8 lead, there was growing feeling that Farrell’s side would kick on, having weathered the most bruising examination of their credentials since their World Cup quarter-final defeat by New Zealand.

But remarkably England dug deep into their reservoir of resilience, giving credence to their ambition to make Twickenham a fortress again. It has felt a long time since headquarters rocked as it did on Saturday. Furbank’s stunning try brought England back into the contest before Earl powered over from close range after Peter O’Mahony had been sent to the sin bin to put Borthwick’s side in front again.

Ireland kept faith in their patterns and when Lowe crossed again in the 72nd minute, their Grand Slam dream seemed alive again. Yet England never relented in their ambition or hope.

Even when Daly’s long-range penalty slid wide and it felt like England would be left facing a gallant victory, Smith had other ideas. If nothing else, Le Crunch in Lyon feels relevant again.


England cause huge shock at Twickenham: as it happened


07:54 PM GMT

Who shone at Twickenham and who had a game to forget?

Earl again dominates as Ireland’s stars struggle...

Here are Telegraph Sport’s player ratings on a remarkable day in south west London.

READ: England v Ireland, player ratings: Ben Earl stars while Peter O’Mahony struggles


07:36 PM GMT

Contrasting scenes at a dumbfounded Twickenham

Ben Earl was man of the match, and cannot hide his joy after Marcus Smith slotted home the drop goal.

Ben Earl
Ben Earl

Mitchell, Smith and Freeman hug each other after the final whistle.

England players celebrate
England players celebrate

Ireland struggle to take in their last-gasp defeat at Twickenham.

Dumbfounded Ireland player
Dumbfounded Ireland player

The Irish will now have to try pick themselves up and win the title next week.

Sad Ireland players
Sad Ireland players

07:20 PM GMT

Drop goal glamour


07:19 PM GMT

Marcus Smith talks to ITV - ‘ I’ve practiced my drop goals, so thought ‘why not’!’

On the winning moment...

“I was excited to be honest we got an advantage in the wide channels. To watch it from the back and get the forwards round the corner getting us momentum, I have been practicing my drop-goals and I thought why not!

On what England need to do to take momentum from the win...

“This team is going to take a lot of pride and confidence from this performance. I know the boys will be very happy with that one. Two weeks ago didn’t go to plan at Scotland, but we said as a promise to each other to have that confidence, we have been building nicely - moments like this give us hope.”

Marcus Smith
Marcus Smith with moment he, and every England fan, will remember for decades to come - Action Images via Reuters /Paul Childs

07:12 PM GMT

Andy Farrell speaks to ITV - ‘England deserved to win’

On the defeat for Ireland...

“They had two penalty advantages anyway, one of them he would have kicked, so I understand why he did it. They deserved to win, so congratulations to them.”

On what went wrong for his team...

“For large parts of the game, I thought we were a little bit off, and that’s down to England. But I felt like we had the resilience to keep bouncing back. England found a way in the end, they really deserved to win.”

On how the team bounces back...

“We have been very good at winning. We have to be good at losing. We have to make sure we review that properly and come into work on Monday with a smile on our faces, because there is a championship to win.”


07:05 PM GMT

‘No element of luck’


07:04 PM GMT

Peter O’Mahony speaks to ITV - ‘Credit to England’

On the defeat...

“Credit to England they played really well.”

On where the hosts won it...

“We spoke beforehand of how dangerous they can be. They disrupted our attack and defended really well - credit to England.”

On what frustrated him...

“We were frustrated with some of our discipline including my yellow card, but it was more down to them putting us under pressure. Their ability to disrupt the ruck was good and we struggled to put quick ball together.”

On lessons to learn...

“We’ll go home and review. We will get back into camp and kick on. We will try and win a Six Nations championship.”


06:59 PM GMT

Ben Earl speaks to ITV - ‘Some rubbish has been thrown at this team’

On the win...

“Unbelievable really, I am a bit emotional because Jamie lost his mum recently and we have spoken a lot about that. Then Danny’s 100th, some of the rubbish that has been thrown at this team in the past week, apparently we are ‘the worst England team ever’ we have done well for that accolade.”

On how they upset the odds...

“We knew from the beginning if we played our best game we would have a chance. Everything came together today, we are very fortunate. We’ve been training like that every day, sometimes it doesn’t translate onto the pitch, people don’t see half the stuff we do, but they can write what they want.”

On his emotions...

“I am just so pleased, that’s where we can take this team. I am working hard, we are all working hard. Playing the best team in the world it brings the best out of you, credit to Ireland and credit to the fans.”


06:55 PM GMT

Danny Care speaks to ITV - ‘We’ve beaten the best team in the world’

On a remarkable win in his 100th appearance

“It’s mad. It’s been a special week and the win was the icing on the cake. We’ve beaten the best team in the world, a lot has been said about us but we knew we could cause them problems.”

On where now for this England side...

“ I truly believe this squad is going place, whether it’s this year or two years time. I urge people to stick with this side.”


06:49 PM GMT

Who needed that win and result?

To state the obvious England and Steve Borthwick did. That is a potentially defining-victory for a coach and side who had been on the end of a fair amount of criticism.

But the Six Nations also needed that (and the Italy win earlier). This championship, until today, has been a bit of damp squib but the performances and and results have once again reminded us that this is the best rugby competition around.


06:47 PM GMT

Data Insights from Sage


06:46 PM GMT

England’s backs were against the wall

And as against Argentina and South Africa at the World Cup they turned in a performance and (unlike against the Springboks...) a win for the ages.

Never write them off...

Marcus Smith celebrates
Marcus Smith celebrates

06:41 PM GMT

To borrow, and tweak, a phrase from Sir Alex Ferguson...

‘Rugby, bl--dy hell’

Marcus Smith drop goal winner
The winning moment! - Getty Images/Mike Hewitt

06:39 PM GMT

If you’re an England fan...

...then drink in this winning moment.


06:37 PM GMT

FULL-TIME: England 23 Ireland 22

What a Test match, what a turnaround, what tension, what jeopardy, what entertainment.

Wow, the action-packed, tension-filled last two minutes was a microcosm of a match where neither side were ever truly on top.

But England, such big underdogs heading into the match, played their most fluent attacking game for years and deserved it.


06:34 PM GMT

DROP GOAL FOR ENGLAND!!!

England 23 Ireland 22

Last-chance saloon for England - line out on halfway. They move the ball down the line, then go down the blind side and win a penalty!

But they’re playing advantage, one last big effort from both sides - we’re into the red and England are in the Ireland 22...they have another penalty but they don’t need it, they spin it out to the midfield and SMITH HITS THE WINNING DROP GOAL!! 

ENGLAND HAVE WON IT! 


06:32 PM GMT

79 mins: England 20 Ireland 22

Win it they do.. now this is all about game management. Ireland kick long into the stands, England will have one more chance.

BTW they’re down to 14 as Cunningham-South is limping off the pitch...


06:30 PM GMT

78 mins: England 20 Ireland 22

Ireland have a line out in their own 22, win this and the match, you suspect, is theirs...


06:28 PM GMT

77 mins: England 20 Ireland 22

England are in the Ireland 22, can they score? No they cannot! Ireland defend a kick (why not keep the ball in hand?) well.


06:27 PM GMT

75 mins: England 20 Ireland 22

England have a penalty, it’s from downtown but Daly fancies his chances and says ‘it’s mine’. It has the legs but the attempt is a bit of a hook and Ireland are still two points ahead.

What a Test match this is...


06:25 PM GMT

TRY FOR IRELAND!

England 20 Ireland 22

From the line out Ireland move the ball into midfield, Jack Crowley does brilliantly, sucking in defenders before shipping it out wide. They have the advantage but don’t need it as Gibson-Park plays a delightful pass, while flat-footed, to Lowe who makes no mistake, scoring in the left corner. The conversion is missed, however, and this is now just a two-point game - will that prove crucial?

Still all to play for...


06:22 PM GMT

71 mins: England 20 Ireland 17

Great tackle from Baird who is helped by Porter and Co and Ireland win a vital penalty on halfway. They kick into the England 22, they will have an attacking line out...


06:21 PM GMT

68 mins: England 20 Ireland 17

Ireland are again in England’s half - they’ve not really put the hosts under pressure in defence, now would be an opportune time to change that. Alas, England again turn the ball over and can kick the danger away.


06:18 PM GMT

66 mins: England 20 Ireland 17

Ireland pass the ball down the line in the England half but it’s stagnant rather than at pace and they are ultimately penalised for hold on as Earl makes a nuisance of himself.


06:16 PM GMT

65 mins: England 20 Ireland 17

Itoje’s fingertips rescue England as Gibson-Park dances a merry dance through the hosts’ defence. Ireland are in the England half, they are trying not to panic and trusting what has served them so well these past few years.

On comes, for his 100th cap, Danny Care, a huge cheer goes up for the scrum-half.


06:14 PM GMT

63 mins: England 20 Ireland 17

It’s a three-point game, Ireland haven’t really had a period of sustained pressure but they’re in the England 22 and could really do with some points to take the sting out of this England resurgence.

Ireland work through the phases, putting in those short passes they are known for but at the crucial point there’s a knock-on and England breathe a sigh of relief.

Dare I say it? Things are going England’s way...


06:10 PM GMT

TRY FOR ENGLAND!

England 20 Ireland 17 

Marcus Smith comes on for Ford as England take the line out...they’re five yards out from the whitewash...Martin tries to barge over, but is stopped in his tracks. They have the advantage though, they are kieeping the ball alive, this time it’s Chessum who tries to charge over the line - Sheehan with the tackle! BUT the pressure tells as Earl finds the space and power to score...remarkable!

Smith adds the extras and we have a humdinger of a final 20 minutes coming up now.


06:07 PM GMT

58 mins: England 13 Ireland 17

England win an Ireland line out and that man Earl breaks clear. Ireland under pressure conced the penalty, O’Mahoney the offender and is shown a yellow card. For the next 10 minutes the visitors will be without their talisman - big 10 minutes coming up for England, who kick for touch.


06:05 PM GMT

55 mins: England 13 Ireland 17

From this attacking line out England again defend well. Since the break Ireland have asked more questions but the hosts have been more than up to answering them.


06:03 PM GMT

53 mins: England 13 Ireland 17

Line out for Ireland in the outskirts of the England 22 as the hosts change their entire front row... T Dan, J Marler, W Stuart the new men...

From the line out Ireland Crowley puts in a great up and under, England do well to collect the ball, I think through Furbank. and clear the danger for a moment. Only a moment due to the fact the kick only crosses the touchline inside the England 22...


05:59 PM GMT

Sit back and enjoy

A collector’s item - England oozing class in attack.


05:57 PM GMT

TRY FOR ENGLAND!

England 13 Ireland 17 

Ford finds space and drag plays into his orbit creating room for his team-mates. They can attack the ball at pace with Itoje involved before Furbank wins the foot race - that’s as fluid as England have looked in ages...

Ford, having created the chance then blots his copybook by missing the conversion - his third miss of the day...could that be costly?


05:53 PM GMT

TRY FOR IRELAND!

England 8 Ireland 17

Great try - Ireland at their best, it’s clinical and brilliant and England have no answer..

Another Irish box kick goes in, Keenan gets the better of Freeman. Ireland then move the ball wide, at pace, there’s a fine delayed pass from Frawley and from that moment on they work the three-on-two overlap to perfection with Lowe going over in the left corner.


05:49 PM GMT

42 mins: England 8 Ireland 12

Early scrum for England in the Ireland half, they move the ball through the hands again and go over the gainline. But Ireland’s defence is working hard and well and they are improving at the breakdown. Keenan gets in a big hit on Ford and forces the error.


05:47 PM GMT

40 mins: England 8 Ireland 12

Vital first 10 minutes of this half coming up - the side that gets its noses in front may well fancy their chances to hold on. Famous last words...

Meanwhile, there were words exchanged between the two coaches at the break - tasty...


05:46 PM GMT

Data Insights from Sage


05:44 PM GMT

Two famous fans

Am sure David Cameron and Jeremy Clarkson will have enjoyed that first half, if not the actual scoreline...

David Cameron and Jeremy Clarkson at Twickenham
David Cameron and Jeremy Clarkson at Twickenham - PA/David Davies

05:40 PM GMT

Gavin Mairs’ half-time verdict

If a measure of a great side is how they cope with unrelenting pressure and disruption, then Ireland have once again stepped up to the plate.

Somehow Andy Farrell’s side have finished the first half 12-8 in front despite being hit with England’s best performance of their Six Nations campaign. Steve Borthwick’s side have dominated possession and territory, playing with a vim and verve not seen in over a year.

England will still feel they are in the position to shatter Ireland’s Grand Slam hopes on a day when Italy overwhelmed Scotland, but they may rue missed scoring opportunities when their thunderous opening had Ireland on the back foot for the first time in this championship.


05:35 PM GMT

Data Insights from Sage


05:35 PM GMT

HALF-TIME: England 8 Ireland 12

What a half of rugby, and what a half from England...BUT Ireland, who, in all fairness, haven’t really had an attacking foothold in this match, who are ahead...

As the half went on the visitors were getting over the gainline more and forcing the England errors, and Farrell will be asking for more of the same in the second half.

For England, I suspect, the message will also be ‘more of the same’ and to keep composure in defence, keeping the penalty count low...


05:32 PM GMT

PENALTY FOR IRELAND!

England 8 Ireland 12

Crowley slots the ball through the uprights and Ireland will go into the break four points up...


05:31 PM GMT

37 mins: England 8 Ireland 9

Ireland move the ball through the hands and into the England 22, they have the advantage - when Lowe and Aki get over the gainline the game is much easier for Ireland...no shock there then...they cannot create the try-scoring opportunity so it goes back to the advantage and they take the points...


05:30 PM GMT

37 mins: England 8 Ireland 9

More kicking from Ireland and this one is a peach. Lowe pings one right the the outskirts of the England 22 and Furbank cannot take and keep in field at the same time. The visitors will now have an attacking line out with two minutes to go - chance for more of a momentum swing...


05:28 PM GMT

36 mins: England 8 Ireland 9

Ireland have been box kicking a lot, interesting tactic, but they’re ahead now without much to cheer about. Big moment for England to stay positive and keep doing what’s got them on top (before that penalty) so far.


05:27 PM GMT

PENALTY FOR IRELAND!

England 8 Ireland 9

Ireland haven’t really been in this match, they haven’t had an attacking foothold, but they are now in front. England are offside and O’Mahony decides to go for goal, even though it’s close to half way. It’s the right choice as Crowley’s kick just about has the legs to add the three points...


05:24 PM GMT

On-fire Lawrence

Ollie Lawrence
Ollie Lawrence has had an immense opening 30 minutes - AFP/Adrian Dennis

05:22 PM GMT

30 mins: England 8 Ireland 6

The hosts again force the error and they’ll go for goal from 40 yards out. Ford, however, misses it right, his second missed kick of the match, will that come back to haunt them?

Regardless of that, however, England came into the match with a lot of ‘ifs’ - if they can do A, B and C etc then...

But they are doing A and and C - they have been clinical so far and Ireland know they are in one hell of a Test match.


05:19 PM GMT

27 mins: England 8 Ireland 6

Ireland have been starved of possession so far, they’re living off scraps. It’s been a great opening by the hosts, who as I type again get over the gainline through the man mountain that is Lawrence.


05:17 PM GMT

25 mins: England 8 Ireland 6

Here’s another thing I did not expect to be penning...England are well on top and deserved more than a two-point lead...

rugby
Ireland are well aware of England's physicality - AFP/Adrian Dennis

05:15 PM GMT

24 mins: England 8 Ireland 6

Nearly another try for England! If you’re an Ireland player/fan you’re not happy with this, it was sloppy play...There’s a speculative grubber with the outside of his boot from Lawrence. The Ireland defence are slow to turn, Furbank makes a nuisance of himself and the ball breaks to Lawrence who goes over the whitewash...

BUT HANG ON...the TMO has his say and, after a while, it’s adjudged that Furbank knocked on...the replay confirms that call...still, more for England lap up.

Ireland needed that call, and that’s something I did not expect to write...


05:11 PM GMT

23 mins: England 8 Ireland 6

Penalty for England and they kick for touch...interesting.

They have a line out five yards out, can they make it count?

They go to the front in the form of Earl, Sheehan is onto him like a flash though and Ireland eventually rip the ball away. This is a great game so far...


05:09 PM GMT

Data Insights from Sage


05:08 PM GMT

20 mins: England 8 Ireland 6

England have been great at the breakdown and slowing down Ireland. They again force the error with a big hit from Chessum on Aki and it will be England’s ball.

It’s been a fascinating opening quarter and that hit sums it up. England have been physical and got the better, so far, of their much-heralded opponents.


05:06 PM GMT

PENALTY FOR IRELAND!

England 8 Ireland 6

Crowley slots home from in front of the posts and the deficit is back to two...


05:06 PM GMT

18 mins: England 8 Ireland 3

Nash has failed his HIA (caused in the lead up to the England try) and Frawley will stay on the pitch.

Meanwhile England are offside and Ireland will surely take the points inside the hosts’ 22...Indeed they do...


05:04 PM GMT

That England try

One word for this ‘hands’...


05:03 PM GMT

PENALTY FOR ENGLAND!

England 8 Ireland 3

Ford makes no mistake with this kick and he fires the ball through the uprights.

England have a five-point lead and it’s no more than they deserve.


05:01 PM GMT

16 mins: England 5 Ireland 3

This is just good pressure from England, they are getting quick ball, getting passes to hand and forcing Irish errors. This one earns England a penalty and Ford will go for goal.


05:00 PM GMT

15 mins: England 5 Ireland 3

We are yet to see Ireland as an attacking force - bar that foray into the England half in the first minute. They have possession now and must try to take the energy out of this Twickenham crowd and play their game. But as I type Earl and George, of all people, break clear and England are in the Ireland half...


04:59 PM GMT

13 mins: England 5 Ireland 3

England are in the Ireland 22 - Chessum, among several, goes over the gainline, yet more impressive stuff. But they knock it on and Ireland are happy just to kick the ball clear.


04:57 PM GMT

11 mins: England 5 Ireland 3

England in full sail at the moment. They counter from a poor Ireland line out (another thing England had to master, again, so far so good...) and keep the ball in hand. They are playing with more attacking vigour so far then in the previous three matches.


04:56 PM GMT

9 mins: England 5 Ireland 3

England win the line out on the right, they move the ball in field, Genge getting over the gainline with ease. Impressive stuff. Ireland forced the turnover BUT once again enough for the hosts to be excited by, they’ve come to attack...


04:55 PM GMT

7 mins: England 5 Ireland 3

Great start to a match that promised much. England’s try was mark by an attacking verve that has been lacking for a while. That’s more than enough to get this Twickenham crowd buzzing.

They’re buzzing even more now, because as I typed, they won the first scrum of the match. If the hosts are to win today they must get the better of the set piece. So far, so good.


04:52 PM GMT

TRY FOR ENGLAND!

England 5 Ireland 3 

I wrote ‘they must do better’ and they did, in a matter of seconds! They counter attack from the re-start brilliantly, Freeman comes out better from a hit from Nash, England then go left and work the the four vs three overlap, passing through the hands to get the ball to Lawrence who scores in the corner. WOW!

Ford misses the extras but the manner of that score will more than offset the missed two points,


04:49 PM GMT

PENALTY FOR IRELAND!

England 0 Ireland 3

As expected Ireland go for the early points and Crowley slots it from in front the posts from just outside the 22. That was just the start the visitors wanted.

What England cannot afford to do is give away too many penalties...must do better.


04:47 PM GMT

2 mins: England 0 Ireland 0

Early line out for Ireland - one of their many strong suits - they take the ball over the half way line and, as they do, move the ball well, short-range passes and the force the early penalty, the hosts offside...


04:45 PM GMT

1 min: England 0 Ireland 0

They’re under way in south west London, can England pull a rabbit out the hat? We’re about to find out....


04:43 PM GMT

National anthems time

Ireland go first and it’s, as you’d expect, sung with gusto. Now for God Save the King, this definitely wins, as  you’d also expect, in the volume stakes...

All rather rousing and it sets up what could be a humdinger...


04:42 PM GMT

Simple equation for Ireland

Scotland’s defeat to Italy simplifies the title equation. Victory over England will guarantee Ireland back-to-back titles even if the greater prize of a grand slam still awaits. However, Andy Farrell’s men will not be presented the trophy at Twickenham. Instead the trophy will be on standby in Dublin for St Patrick’s Day weekend in seven days as Ireland host Scotland with the Triple Crown also on the line. Meanwhile, Italy’s victory means that England could easily be dragged into the wooden spoon race.


04:40 PM GMT

Speedsters...

Freddie Steward vs Fin Smith in a 150m race made up of three shuttles between the halfway line and the try-line. Who do you think wins?

I can tell you. It’s Steward. That pair, both of them out of the match-day 23, of course, are two of the last England players off the pitch. It was interesting to see Fin Smith take a full part in the warm-up despite being injured for some of England’s preparations for this game. I think that tells you, also, how keen Steve Borthwick has been to bring back Marcus Smith.


04:40 PM GMT

Steve Borthwick speaks to ITV - ‘Determination in the team’

On what England will bring today...

“I’ve sensed determination form our players and am sure we’ll put in a performance we can be proud of.”

On George Martin returning...

“We know he’s a great player, starting to get all players back for selection and depth for spots in the squad and we feel this  is the right blend for Ireland match.”


04:38 PM GMT

Andy Farrell speaks to ITV - ‘It will be a hell of a Test match’

On what they expect from England...

“England have class players throughout and if they’re at best, which we expect them to be, then it will be a hell of Test match.”

On what they’ve learned since the World Cup exit...

“We still want to grow everything we’ve started. We want to use that experience to keep progressing and strive for [perfection].”


04:29 PM GMT

Jonny Wilkinson is a pundit for ITV today

And the Queen Mum of England rugby is wearing a duffle coat. To be fair, he’s pulling it off.

Is there nothing he cannot do? Winning the World Cup with a drop goal off his ‘weak’ foot, and now making a duffle coat look OK...remarkable.


04:20 PM GMT

England need to watch out for Big Joe

Being a rugby writer, and spending a lot of time around squads, anaesthetises you to the size of players. It takes a serious specimen to make you stop in your tracks. Watching the captains’ runs of both teams yesterday, Joe McCarthy really caught the eye. The 22-year-old, enjoying a break-out Six Nations after a handful of Test caps last year, is a total unit. He is also a dynamic athlete. The return of George Martin beefs up England, but the hosts must be on their mettle to contain McCarthy around the breakdown and on the gain-line.


04:19 PM GMT

This is a HUGE match for England

Of course it is, every match is BIG when it comes to the Six Nations/professional sport. But as Oliver Brown writes, a poor performance today would make even the most biased England fan fear for the rest of the year. Win today and everyone can breathe a bit easier.

If England cannot summon the blood-and-thunder style for which they are famed at their fortress, or at least a creditable scoreline, then you fear for the rest of their year. A trip to Lyon to face France, two July Tests in New Zealand, and the All Blacks first up again in the autumn: it is a schedule that would challenge even a team in their pomp.

READ: England are the same odds to win this weekend as Italy – how did it come to this?

Steve Borthwick
This match is just the start of a daunting fixture list for Steve Borthwick's side - Getty Images/Harry Murphy

04:15 PM GMT

Nothing like playing up to the stereotype...

Ireland fans
Ireland fans sample the atmosphere ahead of kick-off - Getty Images/Andrew Kearns
Ireland fans
More fun before the main event for Ireland fans - Getty Images/Andrew Kearns

04:10 PM GMT

So, how do England beat this Ireland team?

(i) It won’t be easy, there is clearly a gulf in class between the two sides and England look, at times, lost in attack.

(ii) There’s always a look-to-the-skies-and-pray approach.

or, (iii) Read this from our very own Charlie Morgan on the four things Steve Borthwick’s side need to do to pull off an upset.

READ: Ireland on verge of immortality – here is how England stop them

Ireland led by Peter O'Mahony are expected to win today
Ireland led by Peter O'Mahony are expected to win today - Getty Images/David FItzgerald

03:53 PM GMT

Irish (fans) are in confident mood

One Six Nations upset is fully under way in Rome (go here for further updates), could we have a day of them in store?

Certainly, if you were part of the Irish party I chatted to at Clapham Junction station on my journey to Twickenham, you would say not. Ireland by “at least 18 points” was their call, with the belief that England do not have a hope in hell today. Not a chance.

Certainly, Andy Farrell’s side are convincing favourites, but let’s see what happens.


03:48 PM GMT

England have arrived

Always feel sorry for the social media bod who has to come up with differing ways to describe a team getting off a bus...this week’s offering is ‘game faces’. Bravo...


03:46 PM GMT

As if the prospect wasn’t daunting enough

Have a think of how many England players would make a combined England-Ireland XV?

It’s a question The Good, The Bad & The Rugby podcast, featuring our very own columnist Will Greenwood, asked this week. Along with former Ireland winger Shane Horgan, Greenwood pondered which of today’s England men would make the XV. They made decent cases for Ben Earl and Tommy Freeman, but that was about it...and even then Horgan concluded they would possibly on make the bench.


03:34 PM GMT

Fancy a flutter?

Having a bet on today’s match? First take a look at these free bets and betting offers.


03:25 PM GMT

How England could do with some of this today

One of the many criticisms levelled at today’s hosts, and not just this championship, is that the attack lacks any fluidity, fizz, vim, panache, spontaneity, fun...it’s one directed their way A LOT because it’s all too true. It didn’t use to be this way...

To remind you of how every England fan (well, bar possibly some cauliflower-eared prop from Cornwall..) wants to see them play, here’s try scored at Twickenham against today’s opponents back in 2002.


03:07 PM GMT

Here’s how Ireland line up

And, gulp, it looks formidable...

IRELAND XV TO FACE ENGLAND: H Keenan; C Nash, R Henshaw, B Aki, J Lowe; J Crowley, J Gibson-Park; A Porter, D Sheehan, T Furlong, J McCarthy, T Beirne, P O’Mahony (c), J van der Flier, C Doris.

Replacements: R Kelleher, C Healy, F Bealham, I Henderson, R Baird, J Conan, C Murray, C Frawley.

Hugo Keenan
Hugo Keenan, for many the best full-back in world rugby, returns for Ireland - Getty Images/Brendan Moran

03:01 PM GMT

Here’s the England XV

ENGLAND XV TO FACE IRELAND: G Furbank; I Feyi-Waboso, H Slade, O Lawrence, T Freeman; G Ford (vc), A Mitchell; E Genge (vc), J George (c), D Cole, M Itoje, G Martin, O Chessum, S Underhill, B Earl.

Replacements: T Dan, J Marler, W Stuart, C Cunningham-South, A Dombrandt, D Care, M Smith, E Daly.

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso
Immanuel Feyi-Waboso scored his first try off the bench against Scotland two weeks ago - Getty Images/Stu Forster

Feyi-Waboso will make his first Test start on the wing, with Elliot Daly dropping to the bench and Tommy Freeman sliding over to the left wing.

Alex Mitchell returns at scrum-half with Danny Care, on his 100th cap, among the replacements.

Up front, George Martin starts at lock alongside Maro Itoje, with Ollie Chessum shifting to blindside. Ethan Roots drops out of the matchday squad altogether, with Chandler Cunningham-South and Alex Dombrandt the back-rowers among the replacements.


02:38 PM GMT

Any hope for England?

Have England ever gone into a match against Ireland as such big underdogs and dare I say it, despite the predictable ‘we fear no one’ pre-match chat, with such dread? Well, I reckon the answer to that question is ‘possibly last year’. Twelve months ago the side headed to Dublin similarly fearing the worse before they put in a brave display with 14 men (after a controversial Freddie Steward red card), the hosts ultimately running away with it in the last quarter to win 29-16.

If that match tells us anything it’s that this current England iteration, although understandably much-maligned, have the power and nous to dent any reputation (Exhibits B and C in this argument are beating Argentina with 14 men at the World Cup, and nearly pipping South Africa in the semi-final of the same tournament last autumn).

But can a side that only just beat Italy and Wales, and once again lost to Scotland, all while showing little attacking fair, and looking set in its ways and lacking any clear identity, upset clearly the best team in the northern hemisphere? Well, as Charlie Morgan argues in a piece I’ll post later the template as to how to pull off the upset is there. Namely: back the blitz defence, upset the Irish line out, be sharper in transition, and behave (ie. keep penalty and card count very low...).

To state the obvious, that’s all easier said than done. And you suspect the hosts will have to put in their best display in years and look indistinguishable from the outfit with the bluntest of attacks if they are to upset an Ireland side that has oozed class for years now, and, World Cup quarter-final defeat to New Zealand aside, are seemingly getting better with every match.

Stay here for all the pre-match analysis and to find out if Steve Borthwick’s men can pull out an unexpected rabbit out of the hat. Kick-off is set for 4.45.

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