Ireland set to equal winning record with victory over England

Experienced Jonathan Sexton can guide Ireland to victory
HARRY MADLEY PREVIEWS THE CRUNCH SIX NATIONS CLASH AND BEN CLEMINSON LOOKS AT SUNDAY’S FOOTBALL

SSINCE being installed as England head coach in 2012, Stuart Lancaster hasn’t managed to guide his team to a Six Nations Championship, let alone a Grand Slam. However, overcoming Ireland on Sunday in Dublin would be a significant step to achieving that milestone.

Both the Red Rose and current champions Ireland are the only two sides undefeated after round two. England, initially predicted to struggle due to their substantial injury list, triumphed over a fancied Wales side in Cardiff in the opening game of this year’s championship. Their tournament chances grew stronger still after they punished wooden-spoon favourites Italy 47-17 a week later.

When 133-cap Brian O’Driscoll retired last year, there were question marks as to how the Ireland set-up would cope – those questions have since been answered. The highly regarded Joe Schmidt coached the men in green to their ninth consecutive win when they hosted France 13 days ago and the Irish will be desperate to continue this run against England – a side who have beaten them the last three times they have met in the Six Nations.

The Aviva Stadium showpiece is likely to be a tight, cagey affair. England ended Ireland’s Triple Crown ambitions at Twickenham last year having won 13-10. In 2013 Owen Farrell kicked his side to glory (12-6) in blustery Dublin conditions. Selling total points at 37 with Sporting Index is advised.

Stuart Lancaster has largely kept faith in his team from last weekend, but has replaced winger Jonny May with Jack Nowell. It’s expected that the left winger will cope better with Jonny Sexton’s world-class kicking game, which is crucial as regular full-back Mike Brown has failed to pass the concussion protocol.

Although Ireland’s Jamie Heaslip is absent, having damaged three vertebrae against France, the experience of Rory Best, Sean O’Brien, Mike Ross and Paul O’Connell (combined 255 caps) should provide the hosts with a vital edge in both the scrum and lineout departments.

Furthermore, Ireland have conceded 19 fewer points from their last two outings in comparison to England. Home advantage should also prove significant and it’s recommended to back Ireland to have one hand on the trophy come Sunday evening at 17/10 with Betway.

■ Pointers…
Sell total points at 37 with Sporting Index
Ireland at 17/20 with Betway