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England vs Ireland: Six Nations talking points

Follow our live blog as England face Ireland at Twickenham in the Six Nations on Sunday (kick-off: 3pm)

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Image: Have a read of our talking points preview as England and Ireland prepare to face at Twickenham...

From the front-row battle to family connections, and the tight recent history between the two, here's our talking points preview ahead of England vs Ireland at Twickenham in the Six Nations...

Front-row battle

Perhaps the most curious aspect to Ireland's performance in this Championship has been their scrum.

Routinely over the past number of years, Cian Healy, Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong merged to forge a formidable front-row, challenging and largely troubling every scrum on the planet.

Best has since retired but the props have remained in situ, and yet against Scotland in Ireland's opening Six Nations Test, their scrum was rendered second best - and that to a Scottish side hardly famed for scrummaging ability.

Image: Ireland may be two wins from two, but their scrum has not been the force it was

Irrespective of that, Andy Farrell's charges went on to win the Test 19-12 without playing incredibly and then backed it up with a superb display to defeat reigning Grand Slam champions Wales 24-14 in Dublin.

But their scrum in that game - while vastly improved from the Scottish performance - was still lacking in terms of stability and outright success.

Healy, Rob Herring and Furlong - as well as bench impacts Dave Kilcoyne and Andrew Porter - ultimately forced an edge as Ireland claimed a second win - but like Scotland, Wales' success in recent years has not been built upon a fearsome set-piece.

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Image: Ireland tighthead Tadhg Furlong will be keen to be at the centre of Ireland's scrum returning to a key weapon in their armoury

England, on the other hand, have historically thrived at the set-piece, and particularly the scrum. Mako Vunipola may be absent, but in Joe Marler, Jamie George and Kyle Sinckler, Eddie Jones has a front-row which should be able to severely challenge most.

Ireland will have to ensure they maintain parity at the scrum, and wish against their wobbles of the first two weeks. The scrum remains a massively potent weapon in rugby - England's demise in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final the perfect example.

England front row Kyle Sinckler
Image: England tighthead Kyle Sinckler was the standout prop in world rugby in 2019, and was badly missed during the World Cup final

All change in the England backs

The return to fitness of Leicester Tigers centre Manu Tuilagi, in addition to a groin concern for full-back George Furbank has seen Jones mix up the England backs.

Elliot Daly has shifted to full-back - where he featured throughout England's run to the World Cup final - Tuilagi has come in to partner Owen Farrell in the centre, while Jonathan Joseph has shifted to the left wing.

Manu Tuilagi warms up prior to the 2020 Six Nations match between France and England at Stade de France
Image: Manu Tuilagi has recovered from a groin injury to start at Twickenham

Such a move constituted a fairly sizeable shock, particularly considering Joseph has never started an international Test on the wing. The last time he played there at any level was over seven years ago for London Irish.

Gloucester's Ollie Thorley has been with the England squad, but misses out on an opportunity.

Expect plenty of aerial bombs to Test out England's new-look back-three from Ireland's Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray et al.

Image: Jonathan Joseph - ordinarily a centre - will start on the wing for the first time in his England career

Conflicting histories?

Ireland head to Twickenham on Sunday with history firmly set against them.

In 67 meetings away to England since 1875, Ireland have lost 45, won 18 and drawn four. But narrow the focus into Six Nations terms since 2000, and things have been far more competitive.

Indeed, since the year 2000, Ireland have travelled to face England 10 times at Twickenham in the Championship and the record is far more even: England six wins (2000, 2002, 2008, 2012, 2014), Ireland four (2004, 2006, 2010, 2018).

And on three of those occasions - 2004, 2006, 2018 - Ireland clinched Triple Crown honours on English soil, while 2018 heralded a Grand Slam triumph too.

Image: England's Six Nations record at Twickenham is exceptional, but Ireland's results there have been positive too

Ireland will again seek a Triple Crown when they visit England Rugby's HQ on Sunday, but will be aware it will take a monumental effort.

England have lost just seven times at Twickenham in all competitions over the last seven years, and their home record in the Six Nations is extraordinary, losing just three times at home for 10 years.

Branch that out to 20 years of Six Nations Championship Tests, and England have lost only seven times in two decades at home. But four of those defeats did come against Ireland.

Ireland's Farrell revival or a family connection to halt progress?

One of the most intriguing aspects to Sunday's clash is the fact Ireland head coach Farrell leads a squad directly up against an England one captained by his son Owen Farrell.

Image: There will be a clash of family on Sunday as Ireland coach Andy Farrell picks a side to face his son, and England skipper, Owen Farrell

Ireland's 2019 campaign under Joe Schmidt, with Farrell in his previous role as defence coach, wilted and died as convincing defeats to England in Dublin and Wales in Cardiff this time last year left the nation deflated, before a Rugby World Cup loss to Japan and seventh quarter-final exit compounded the flow of negativity.

Since Farrell's promotion to head coach, however, Ireland have beaten Scotland and Wales in Dublin, and head to Twickenham in confident mood for a Triple Crown push.

Andy Farrell and Johnny Sexton posed with the trophy at the Six Nations launch earlier this month
Image: Can Andy Farrell and Johnny Sexton lead Ireland to an unexpected Triple Crown triumph?

Sunday's Test will prove a discernible barometer of where the squad is at. Their last two clashes with England have ended in pretty dismal defeats: an unexpected 32-20 home Six Nations loss, and doleful 57-15 pre-World Cup summer Test.

If Ireland can go and beat an England side which made the Rugby World Cup final just four months ago, however, and on their own patch to boot, it really would be a statement of intent and signify an acute revival under Farrell.

There will be no holding back either Farrell in the quest for victory on Sunday - that is for sure.

Farrell has turned to an Irish legend on what is a defining week in Ireland's campaign
Image: Farrell, have coached with England between 2011-15 and the British & Irish Lions in 2013 and 2017, joined Ireland as defence coach in 2016

'A performance brewing'

Ireland may have been soundly beaten in their last two clashes with England, but on their last Six Nations visit to Twickenham they romped to a 24-15 win in the snow.

Sky Sports' Will Greenwood has said Ireland have shown signs over recent weeks of returning to that level of performance, but equally feels England are on the cusp of a standout display too...

"Two years ago Ireland were at their peak. Their performance at Twickenham was extraordinary," Greenwood said on this week's Will Greenwood Podcast.

"They took England to the cleaners - the corner had thrown the towel in, the referee was waving his arms. It was all over very quickly.

"In the Wales game we saw patches of real edge where Ireland clearly have a structure. They're clearly playing a new system with forwards in the front line and they either drop it down to Sexton or they hit these hard runners.

"But they also showed glimpses where, while they understand the textbooks and playbooks are important, every now and again you have got to go for the throat. They looked as though they had that nastiness. I don't mean that in an illegal sense. They had that bit of mongrel back about them.

"They will go to Twickenham and there will be enough of them with muscle memory. They will fancy their chances. I just think England have got a performance brewing."

Team News

England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jonny May, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Owen Farrell (c), 11 Jonathan Joseph, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs; 1 Joe Marler, 2 Jamie George, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 George Kruis, 6 Courtney Lawes, 7 Sam Underhill, 8 Tom Curry.

Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Charlie Ewels, 21 Ben Earl, 22 Willi Heinz, 23 Henry Slade.

Ireland: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton (C), 9 Conor Murray; 1 Cian Healy, 2 Rob Herring, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 4 Devin Toner, 5 James Ryan, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 7 Josh van der Flier, 8 CJ Stander.

Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Caelan Doris, 21 John Cooney, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Keith Earls.

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