Final day of the Six Nations. Versus England. In Twickenham. On St Patrick's Day.

You'd think it would sell itself.

Throw in a possible Grand Slam for already crowned champions Ireland, the hosts gunning for revenge for after year's Slam-buster in Dublin, defending an unbeaten run at the ground under Eddie Jones but looking at a third straight loss.

Not enough?

Add a match official helping England out during training on Tuesday, find an old clip of their boss wanted to get back at the "scummy Irish" and now we've got a game on our hands.

Ireland, of course, have already claimed the title with a week to spare, and it's kind of hard to get to grips with that fact.

But at the same time it is believable. Things have gone according to plan, it's just that the journey to this point was slightly more interesting than expected.

Joe Schmidt's team were heavily fancied against France but needed a miracle play to come through.

Home games against Italy, Wales and Scotland were also presented on favourable terms but, apart from the first, were too close for comfort.

That leaves the side with their most difficult task to date, conquering back-to-back champs England in London, a venue where Ireland have not won since 2010.

"What's at stake is a fantastic opportunity, not just to achieve a Grand Slam, but to go a year unbeaten," said the New Zealander, who has overseen an Irish record of 11 straight wins since defeat to Wales last season.

"There's a sense of anticipation, there's a sense of nervousness. The magnitude of what it's going to take to get us over the line is uppermost in the thinking."

On the team front, it is the visitors who present a more settled unit with just one change made from the 28-8 win over Scotland, Iain Henderson coming in for Devin Toner in the second row.

England, on the other hand, have lost two to injury and dropped five players, most noticeably half-backs Danny Care and George Ford making way for Saracens duo Richard Wigglesworth and Owen Farrell, who switches from the centre.

That pair will face the in-form Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton, who will, as usual have a huge bearing on the outcome.

Jones is a man under pressure and said that it's a "one-off selection" for a game he must win.

"We just felt we needed to make some changes for this game. We need to get on the front foot against Ireland and we've selected a team to do that."

His apology for controversial comments may have been sheepish but he later added with a measure of enthusiasm: "It's the best time in rugby, when you are under the pump and you have got to produce it.

"And the team feels the same way. Without a doubt this is my testing time here and it's going to be good for us.

"I love it. This is what we get paid for as coaches."


John Hayes told RTÉ Sport that he is not worried one jot about Ireland.

The 2009 Grand Slam winner knows, on the evidence produced so far, that Schmidt's men will show up and deliver.

His concern is how much two dispiriting defeats in a row will hurt England and whether they can translate that hurt into an 80-minute team performance, a task made more difficult by injuries to Nathan Hughes and Courtney Lawes.

He said: "Do they come back home to Twickenham and try and salvage something from, for what for them has been, a very poor season, so it’s more about what they do than just us because I’ve a fair idea we’ll be okay."

The stat that England have lost 18 rucks in their last two games, versus 12 for Ireland in the whole tournament, tells part of the tale but not all.

The Scotland and France foragers looked like they wanted the ball more. Sure, there were technical faults and poor options taken along the path to the rucks but, when all things were equal, England's men came second in the hunger stakes, a criminal offence for which no jury in the land could acquit.

They drafted in one of the appointed touch judges to oversee a training match to help fix the problem, however, when World Rugby got wind of it they correctly decided to replace Marius van der Westhuizen with Nigel Owens, and will update the regulations to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Angus Gardner of Australia will take charge of proceedings tomorrow.

But the Twickenham factor comes into play now and, with severe pressure not to lose three Six Nations games in a row for the first time since 2006, Ireland cannot expect the hosts to be so lacking in the breakdown area.


Sticking to a winning formula, Schmidt now feels that Ireland, who have leapfrogged England into second in the world rankings, are in a zone where scores come naturally, and it's their opponents who must figure out a formula to upset their game plan.

"Worst-case scenario is that England hit the ground running and actually win with a bit to spare" - Joe Schmidt

The head coach did, however, allude to a fear that things could go wrong, perhaps an attempt to dampen expectations as the chance to claim just a third-ever Grand Slam comes closer.

"Worst-case scenario is that England hit the ground running and actually win with a bit to spare. It would be a crushing way for us to finish," he said.

No matter what happens on Saturday afternoon the former Leinster coach can take satisfaction from winning a title after losing so many key men to injury.

In time, Sean O'Brien, Robbie Henshaw, Josh van der Flier and Chris Farrell will all return to the mix looking for their jerseys back, and having to fight with Six Nations winners for them. It's a very healthy place for the team to occupy.

"I don't think any of the team would care if it was 3-0," said Schmidt in retaliation to a bizarre suggestion that his charges were somehow "boring".

Very little is certain in sport but as Cheltenham week draws to an end there is one sure thing, this one is going to be a cracker.

Follow England v Ireland on Saturday (KO 2.45pm) via the live blog on RTÉ.ie/Sport and the News Now App, or listen live on RTÉ Radio 1, with commentary from Michael Corcoran and Donal Lenihan.