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Expert Preview: Weekend Three

Updated: Thursday, 26 Feb 2009 18:55

Toby Flood - selection sends a message
Toby Flood - selection sends a message

by Conor O'Shea

IRELAND v ENGLAND

As I suggested earlier in the week, I believe Toby Flood's selection answers the question in terms of how England will play. Flood tries things and he will try to bring the best out of the people around him and that's what he will try and do in this match.

The English bench is also interesting. Danny Care is back in after an injury and could really test Stephen Ferris and the Irish back row if he comes in; there is nobody quicker in the game off the base of a scrum. while Tom Croft in the back row can also add a bit if he comes in.

On the Ireland selection, the main talking point is Declan Kidney's consistency. A lot of people expected Gordon D'Arcy to come in but he has stuck with Paddy Wallace at inside-centre. Wallace has never had an extended run in the Ireland team and Declan has shown faith in him. It does send out a message.

England may target Wallace with Riki Flutey, who is a powerful player and a good stepper, and they have big backs like Mark Cueto and Mike Tindall that they can also put down the 10 and 12 channel.

It's not that Wallace and Ronan O'Gara are defensively weak, it's that size-wise they can be got at. Ireland could yet require a big defensive game from Tomás O'Leary.

Ireland - advantage at lock and in the back row?

Ireland do have an advantage at second row with Paul O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan, as the English pair are not really complimentary and I think Ireland also shade the back-row contest, especially in terms of mobility. Jamie Heaslip has more mobility and is quicker off the base of the scrum than any number eight in Europe – although Nick Easter is a terrific player too. Stephen Ferris versus James Haskell is a fascinating potential Lions head to head.

I don't think Mike Ford will make major changes to how England defend. So far, they have had a more organised and pressurising defence than France did, but they are not Italy. There will be space but England are well organised; Wales only got one try and that was on a turnover. That said, England have allowed Ireland a little room in the past and it will interesting to watch what they do.

Up front, they will target Ferris and the big ball carriers because they know that if you can stop Ireland generating momentum up front, you then slow down the quality of ball they can deliver to their backs and that will hurt any team.

Overall, it's a good England team against an Ireland team that's flying in terms of its confidence and it will be a cracking game.

It will be full-blooded, with defence key and you will have full on Test match rugby. The controlling influence that either O'Gara or Flood can exert is crucial. I think Ireland will win but it could well be a lot tighter than people are expecting.

ENGLISH PLAYERS MOVING TO FRANCE

There has been a sub-plot brewing underneath England's preparations with Haskell and Flutey set to move to France.

I have to say I think the RFU are absolutely right to take a stance in favour of players who remain in England. A huge amount of work was put into getting the current access agreement between the clubs and the national side in place and the minute they got it, you had three players leaving. The RFU have to be careful in terms of employment not to say too much but they have said it will be more difficult for players who move – as other nations have done and that will be the situation.

Haskell is a certainty at six at the moment but the principle from now on is that you will have to be very good to move and still play. In Flutey's situation, there are lots of young guys who could challenge him – players like Shane Geraghty – for the inside centre position.

I was an away based player myself and with Ireland, I also said that if there was a 50/50 between an away based player and home based player you should go with the home based player. Even if it is 60/40 you should stick with the home player.

Only when you have a significantly better player – Tommy Bowe at the Ospreys, Geordan Murphy at Leicester or Simon Easterby at Llanelli – should you go with him.

That said, we have Andy Goode still there on the bench and it is one selection that sticks out a little. I would have gone with Danny Cipriani but you might say that Cipriani might be better off getting 80 minutes with his club and we could yet see him in this Six Nations.

From a rugby fan's point of view, I'd like to see him play as he is a very unique talent. That said, if he isn't fully right, you can't play him. I wouldn't write him off for the Lions – South Africa could be perfect for him and with Ian McGeechan and Warren Gatland picking there's the Wasps connection in the selection committee too.

MARC LIEVREMONT

I think Wales will win in Paris but a large part of that is Marc Lievremont's selection, which is just unbelievable. How can he pick Benoit Baby at fly-half? I almost feel sorry for the young guys he is throwing in there – players like Matthieu Bastareaud.

The thing is they could still beat Wales, because of the talent they have but Lievremont is the elephant in the room that no-one is willing to address for French rugby.

Out-half is a very specialised position in international rugby: who in the French backline can kick the ball properly?

Lievremont will say the usual stuff about running everything and being true to French values but it just doesn’t work.

There are mixed messages coming from the coach – the players are putting on a public image but my feeling is that there are things going on there that we are not aware of. I haven't ever myself been involved with a coach like Lievremont.

But they could come out and win.