So...as I write it's early Friday morning...how have you been getting through the week? It has seemed a bit longer than usual here at Harpin Manor...not sure if that's a good thing or not, but it is what it is.
To pass the time during quieter moments I have tried to prepare for this preview by coming up with a situation in another sport that is similar to that Holy Grail which Ireland seeks in Twickenham on Saturday.
[Remember...I refuse to type the full GS words; even in my daily Front5 feature I censor them when they appear in a quote or headline...at a push I'll use rhyming slang like 'Van Damme']
First I thought of something like a 147 in snooker, a 9-dart finish in darts or a 300 game in tenpin bowling. They tick a lot of the boxes it's true, but they all fall down on one key aspect, which I eventually found in the one I settled on - baseball's 'no hitter'.
You don't really need to know all the rules of baseball to get my meaning. They are extremely rare; according to Wiki there are on average about two per season altogether in the major leagues where each team plays at least 162 games.
Anyway...this is what I'm getting at...baseball games are played three outs at a time, after which the pitcher must wait for his own team to bat before he gets to go for the next three. This means that between the 8th and 9th innings, if the 'no-hitter' is still on, he has to wait for his chance to put himself in the history books. In some forms of the sport he might have to bat during that time, but more often than not, all he can do is just sit and live in his own head until it's time to return to the field.
That waiting time is what makes it a lot more like Ireland's task, only in our case, the period has lasted all through the week - in that time I had work, family and such to keep me occupied [when I wasn't dreaming up baseball analogies that is]... but for Joe Schmidt and his team, to all intents and purposes this has BEEN their work and family since full time against the Scots.
All of this extra time to build up expectations means that whatever lengths to which they might go to make it 'just another week' before a big rugby match, it can't be. Sure, I'd say the players themselves are being as professional as they can, but it has to be on their minds, and who on earth could blame them - I certainly don't see that as a bad thing at all.
So given this is more than an ordinary Six Nations match for Ireland, and it will have been more than an ordinary week of preparation, then this has to be more than an ordinary preview.
They didn't get to this stage without having a decent gameplan for every match - failing to prepare is certainly not a criticism that can be put on this head coach. But what impressed me in the four matches to date, more than any other time during his reign, was our ability to absorb what our opposition puts before us and make the right adjustments to impose ourselves, and as we all know from Paris, it doesn't matter how late in the game it is, we've still managed to do it.
Sure, we can look at these two starting lineups and say pundit-style things like 'Hendo will bring some extra ball-carrying', 'We definitely needed leaders like O'Mahony and Kearney to shake off knocks from last week', 'It looks like the English are planning to get physical', 'Switching Farrell to outhalf is move Eddie Jones should have made a long time ago'. And speaking of Eddie, we can also say how much we'd like to make him regret using the same media he apparently doesn't like to try and provoke us.
But like I said, this is no ordinary match. It's a bit like a cup final, only there are two different prizes on offer...revenge for them, the 'you know what' for us. Bonus points mean absolutely nothing, nor does margin of victory. I'm serious...if we're up 21-0 after half an hour yet only win 21-20 at the end, do you honestly think I'm going to be moaning about the concession of those points or that we never got the fourth try?
All a pitcher can do when he gets close to a no-hitter is focus on one pitch at a time. And that's how the boys in green will have to see it. Every lineout, every tackle, every clearout, every jackle...yes I see there's the making of a poem there but I don't have time to finish it, you get the idea.
What's that? You actually want a prediction? Oh alright. 🙄
I believe we can perform. I believe we can overcome whatever England throws at us. But I also believe that the rugby gods can be cruel...bounce of the ball, rush of blood to the head, tight refereeing call...so I'm expecting this one to last all the way to the
final pitch 80th minute, and since I'll be just as happy with a one-point Irish win as I would a blow-out, a one-point Irish win is what I'm predicting.
To all those travelling, bon voyage ya lucky sods! To those like me watching from afar, find a safe haven with good friends around you - and make sure you coax as many rugby-sceptics as you can to watch as it's occasions like these that help spread the word about this perfectly imperfect sport and competition we all know and love.
Happy St Patrick's Day to you all, see you on the other side. JLP
England : 15. Anthony Watson, 14 Jonny May, 13. Jonathan Joseph, 12, Ben Te'o, 11 Elliot Daly, 10. Owen Farrell, 9. Richard Wigglesworth;
1. Mako Vunipola, 2. Dylan Hartley (c), 3. Kyle Sinckler, 4. Maro Itoje, 5 George Kruis, 6. Chris Robshaw, 7. James Haskell, 8 Sam Simmonds
Replacements: 16. Jamie George, 17 Joe Marler, 18. Dan Cole 19. Joe Launchbury, 20 Don Armand, 21. Danny Care, 22. George Ford, 23. Mike Brown
Natwest Six Nations 2018 - Round 5
Referee - Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant 1 - Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant 2 - Nigel Owens (Wales)
TMO - Ben Skeen (New Zealand)