Chess and rugby union aren't two pastimes you'd compare too often but this test match is definitely an exception to that rule.
My recurring message about Ireland's overall 2015 campaign is that we need to be able to not only accept the favourites tag, but also be proud of it. That's the final piece of the puzzle which has led teams to greatness in several sports and this Irish setup definitely has the coaching and the talent pool to make that extra step. And with no disrespect meant to the Italians or the French, Sunday will see our first big test of where we are in this calendar year.
Both Joe Schmidt & Stuart Lancaster have such rigid structures for their squads that there won't be a single moment when accuracy won't be required, by the officials every bit as much as the players. Get ready to live for an hour and a half on the edge of your seats, folks...and don't expect to have many nails left by the end.
I can't find too much wrong with Joe's selections. We all speculated over what he'd do to fill the void left by BOD - he has gone with Payne & Henshaw and this will be their third outing together in a row, with several weeks at Carton House knowing they'd be playing together as well. If all they do on Sunday is cancel out the very real threats of their opposite numbers then I will consider it a job well done.
The biggest worry I have is that we won't score early enough. Maybe against the All Blacks and Wallabies our early leads got clawed back but I liken Lancaster's England to a coiled spring which always has a seven pointer in them given half a chance so while we managed ok without first half tries in our opening two matches, simply containing them for the opening 40 minutes may not be enough this time.
Joe tends to play a bit more cautiously at test level than he did at Leinster, which is understandable as possession and territory are at much more of a premium, but while the English D will be disciplined and tough to break down I think we need to really put it to them in the opening quarter.
Basically I suppose what I'm saying is that I'd like us to blow them out of the water in the first half so my nerves won't be shot by full time! Very wishful thinking, I know.
Still...what I do know is that while the two sides are very similar in organisation, pound-for-pound Ireland have the edge in both talent and experience, particularly at halfback, and all I'm saying is that we need to do all we can to make that count from the get-go.
I can't even begin to speculate on how the two packs will match up. Jamie Heaslip of course will be missed but I reckon Joe has made the right call in drafting in Jordi Murphy...think that's because he's Leinster man all you want but I honestly believe the most "like-for-like" call was the way to go. We might see less ball carrying from Sean O'Brien than we'd like but to be honest, a bit like our centres, I'd be more concerned about how our back row squares up to theirs.
Naturally set-pieces are also going to be factor, and as we all know this fixture has some history in the front row area. I can only imagine that when the first scrum is called every Irish fan will hold their breath and won't exhale until it's over so hopefully there won't be a lot of resets! Fingers crossed we won't get on the wrong side of Craig Joubert though he does have a reputation for being a "homer".
As for my prediction I'm going for an Irish win by 3 points, but not without a whole lot of twists and turns. See you on the other side...
#COYBIG #ShoulderToShoulder #JLP #TrustJoe
ENGLAND : 15. Alex Goode 14. Anthony Watson 13. Jonathan Joseph 12. Luther Burrell 11. Jack Nowell 10. George Ford 9. Ben Youngs
1. Joe Marler 2. Dylan Hartley 3. Dan Cole 4. David Attwood 5. George Kruis 6. James Haskell 7. Chris Robshaw > captain 8. Billy Vunipola
Replacements 16. Tom Youngs 17. Mako Vunipola 18. Henry Thomas 19. Nick Easter 20. Tom Croft 21. Richard Wigglesworth 22. Danny Cipriani 23. Billy Twelvetrees
RBS Six Nations - Round 3
Sunday, March 1, 2015
At Aviva Stadium, 3pm. Live on RTE2
Referee: Craig Joubert (SARU)
Assistant Referees: Jérôme Garcès (FFR) Mathieu Raynal (FFR)
TMO: Deon von Blommestein (SARU)