2003: Slam Showdown
Both sides came into the final weekend of the Six Nations with a Grand Slam in their sights, but only one team ever turned up. England’s refusal to be moved from the top of the European table was embodied in a literal sense by Martin Johnson, who pulled some pre-game red carpet shenanigans to upset the locals. Once the game got going, though, a Jonny Wilkinson-inspired England showed their pedigree as they tore Ireland to pieces with five tries in a 42-6 win.
2006: Horgan’s Heroics
England’s Grand Slam or Ireland’s Triple Crown – something had to give at Twickenham on a drizzly March afternoon. With two minutes on the clock, Ireland trailed by three and were stuck in their own 22. Then Ronan O’Gara’s chip, Brian O’Driscoll’s pick-up and Shane Horgan’s brilliant finishing turned the game. Nobody but the big winger could have scored the chance that came his way, while O’Gara’s flawless conversion from the touchline meant England faced a four-point gap with 30 seconds left. Ireland won 28-24, and yet another Grand Slam chance slipped away for England.
2007: A Stroll In The Park
After a build-up dripping in historic significance, England’s first visit to Croke Park saw them utterly blown away by a rampant Irish side. A 23-3 half-time lead was briefly cut by David Strettle’s try, but a sumptuous move ended with Ronan O’Gara dinking the ball to Shane Horgan’s hands for an easy try. Isaac Boss intercepted the ball in the 79th minute to send the stadium into raptures and give the fans the perfect end to the dream day. England got revenge with a 33-10 win a year later, but this is the one that meant so much more.
2009: City Of BOD
It might not sound too clever in the current climate, but the way Brian O’Driscoll shrugged off injuries to stay on the field and lead Ireland to victory – he later admitted he didn’t remember scoring the try, which eventually secured the win – will go down in Irish folklore. Two penalties from Ronan O’Gara and eight points from O’Driscoll (the try and a drop goal) were enough for Ireland to sneak home 14-13 and stay on track for the Grand Slam. But this was all about attrition and big hits, as Ireland finally learned to win messy.
2014: Epic Tale
It was a low-scoring event when Ireland came to Twickenham last year, but the quality of rugby was incredible. A below-par England came out absolutely flying as they sought to stop a rampant Irish side fresh from two big victories over Scotland and Wales. After a brutal first half ended just 3-0 to the home side, Rob Kearney and Danny Care swapped brilliantly worked tries, Owen Farrell and Jonathan Sexton traded penalties and England were left with a three-point lead and 24 minutes to defend it. Ireland threw everything at the white wall in front of them, but a rampant Twickenham crowd inspired Stuart Lancaster’s men to cling on for a 13-10 win.
“Ireland is where strange tales begin and happy endings are possible.” While we can’t promise strangeness in Dublin on Sunday, former head of government Charles Haughey’s famous words are sure to ring true come 5pm – a happy ending is in sight for whoever holds the lead come full time. England and Ireland both have two wins from two, and a Grand Slam is the target for Joe Schmidt and Stuart Lancaster.
There’s history in this rivalry, and both sides have developed into serious units in recent years. The visitors might be inexperienced, but that didn’t stop them triumphing in Wales and putting Italy to the sword. The hosts’ experienced heads, meanwhile, showed little in the way of creativity against France.
He wasn’t flawless against the French, but the return of Jonathan Sexton (above) inspired those around him. His cool head at fly half will be pivotal to Ireland again on Sunday.
The kicking game that he and Conor Murray possess, coupled with the chasing of Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe and Simon Zebo is sure to cause England problems. Don’t expect too much more than a power game with some clever kicking from the Irish. Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw (pictured) face a big task in defence, while Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy are back to full fitness and raring to go.
Changes might have been forced on him by injuries, but Stuart Lancaster’s England side are making their coach’s selection look spot on. Anthony Watson, Luther Burrell, Jonathan Joseph and George Ford look to be revelling in the freedom that’s been bestowed on them, and bring a dangerous running game to Dublin.
The back row is the driving force of this England side. Chris Robshaw has led his side’s tackle count in both Six Nations games this season, while James ‘The Postman’ Haskell (pictured) looks like a man reborn. They will not shy away from Ireland’s physical game.
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