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Irish see chink in England’s armour in front row

February 20, 2014

LONDON (AP) — In a tasty Twickenham clash, the pressure will be keenest on Cian Healy and his fellow Ireland front-rowers Rory Best and Mike Ross.

For it’s their job on Saturday to expose England’s enforced gamble on David Wilson, the tighthead prop who will bring only 47 minutes of action in the last two months into a rare Six Nations start.

Win, and Ireland secures the Triple Crown and can set its sights on the Grand Slam.

Win, and England stays in the title hunt.

The odds favour the unchanged Irish.

They have crushed Scotland and Wales at home, scoring five tries and conceding none, and allowing only one line break. The gameplan has been limited but perfectly executed and consistently intense.

They have ruled the lineouts and the rucks, with flanker Peter O’Mahony leading the tournament in turnovers, with five. Meanwhile, flyhalf Jonathan Sexton’s goalkicking has complemented his accurate line-kicks.

While there’s been a lack of penetration from the backs, among which Brian O’Driscoll has recovered from a stomach bug to equal George Gregan’s record of 139 test caps for most all-time, Ireland has found its edge up front.

That’s where loosehead Healy, a Lion last year, will be hoping to do some damage against tighthead Wilson, whose comeback match from a calf injury before Christmas and then a sore back was last Saturday.

Wilson, a backup for five years, has been pressed into action by the season-ending injury to Dan Cole, who has a bulging disc in his neck trapping a nerve. Cole made his value apparent by playing all 80 minutes against France and 75 against Scotland. Henry Thomas replaced Cole at Murrayfield but wasn’t deemed ready yet for a full gig.

Coach Stuart Lancaster admitted England was “not in an ideal situation” and would be over the moon if Wilson, the only change to his starting side in the campaign so far, lasted intact for at least an hour. Wilson promises only to give all he has.

“I’m ready to play. I would have liked one more game to get my match fitness up but that’s the way it goes,” he said. “I’ve got no idea how long I can play for. I want to do as well as I can for as long as I can.”

Injured England and Lions loosehead Alex Corbisiero wasn’t worried Wilson will be undercooked: “He has the experience to get over the fact he hasn’t played much rugby recently.”

Ireland captain Paul O’Connell, whose lineout battle with Courtney Lawes will be decisive, also didn’t believe Wilson will weaken England.

“If you’ve ever sat beside Dave Wilson at a dinner, he’s an incredibly big man. He’s the perfect shape for a prop forward,” O’Connell said. “For him to be straight back in is a big compliment to him. I don’t think he’ll weaken the side.”

Beside hoping Wilson helps delivers good ball in the new scrum engagement, England will also be hoping to finish stronger, and for more from their improving backline. Centre Luther Burrell, with a try in each game, has made England forget the injured Manu Tuilagi. Halves Danny Care and Owen Farrell have been impressive in pulling the strings.

England has beaten Ireland in their last three matches, but either O’Connell or O’Driscoll didn’t play. This time, both will be out there.

“The confidence isn’t sky high, it’s realistic,” O’Connell said.

“The way we’ve been playing in recent times, particularly our last three games, we’ve been good. But in physicality, fitness and mental stakes the step up is huge. England have spoken a lot about making Twickenham a fortress, but we know that’s exactly what it is.”



England: Mike Brown, Jack Nowell, Luther Burrell, Billy Twelvetrees, Jonny May, Owen Farrell, Danny Care; Billy Vunipola, Chris Robshaw (captain), Tom Wood, Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury, David Wilson, Dylan Hartley, Joe Marler. Reserves: Tom Youngs, Mako Vunipola, Henry Thomas, Dave Attwood, Ben Morgan, Lee Dickson, George Ford, Alex Goode.

Ireland: Rob Kearney, Andrew Trimble, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Dave Kearney, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Jamie Heaslip, Chris Henry, Peter O’Mahony, Paul O’Connell (captain), Devin Toner, Mike Ross, Rory Best, Cian Healy. Reserves: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Martin Moore, Iain Henderson, Jordi Murphy, Isaac Boss, Paddy Jackson, Fergus McFadden.

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