Saturday 4 February 2023 Dublin: 3°C
Billy Stickland/INPHO James Ryan captains Ireland at Twickenham.
# the big one
'Eddie Jones is just playing games' - Ireland aim to walk the walk in Twickenham
James Ryan captains Andy Farrell’s side on what feels like a very important occasion for this squad.

WHILE EDDIE JONES has thrown a few of his usual “little bombshells” their way this week, Ireland are intent on doing their talking on the pitch today at Twickenham.

Walking the walk against England certainly feels well overdue for Ireland, who have been damaged by their defeats on the last three occasions the sides have met.

With head coach Andy Farrell having picked a rather different-looking Ireland XV that is missing injured captain and out-half Johnny Sexton, this feels like a very important occasion for this squad, even if the Autumn Nations Cup itself means very little. 

Jones’ mischief mainly focused on Ireland being “the United Nations” due to five players in the starting XV having qualified on residency grounds but Ireland haven’t been sidetracked.

“He seems to like to throw a few little bombshells over the wall,” said assistant coach Richie Murphy after yesterday’s captain’s run at Twickenham, led by 24-year-old James Ryan for the first time.

“We don’t focus on any of that. We know what we need to control and what we can control. We’ll just move on with that.”

Perhaps Farrell will harness Jones’ jibe as an extra little hit of motivation for his players, not that they should need it.

Humiliation is a very strong word but there’s no doubting that England have dominated this fixture for the last two years, with Ireland’s Grand Slam-clinching win in London in 2018 seeming like a very long time ago. Pulling off a victory today would be a massive momentum boost for the Farrell era, which is still only six games old.

England are clear and deserved favourites. World Cup finalists last year, Jones’s side sealed their the Six Nations title recently and have a team bristling with physical power, experience, and tactical acumen.

ross-byrne Billy Stickland / INPHO Ross Byrne gets his second Test start. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

It is likely to be a brutal affair for those at the coalface, with the scrum sure to be a key battleground. Jones looked to land an early blow in that regard by questioning the legality of Ireland tighthead Andrew Porter’s scrummaging.

“I think Eddie Jones is just playing games in that situation,” said Murphy.

“He obviously thinks Porter is a very good player, which he is. No one has ever come to us and made any comments about Ports’ scrum technique.

“So, we have no issues. We have had no feedback from World Rugby in relation to what he does. It’s just one of those games.”

Ireland will hope that Pascal Gaüzère – who awarded seven scrum penalties to Saracens against Leinster in September – doesn’t come into this one with any pre-conceived notions, with Sarries loosehead Mako Vunipola and hooker Jamie George starting against the all-Leinster front row of Cian Healy, Ronan Kelleher, and Porter.

With Joe Launchbury adding a bit more heft in the England second row, they will be aiming to do real damage at scrum time, even if Ireland will feel Connacht man Quinn Roux provides a bit of stability behind Porter.

The set-piece has gone decisively in England’s favour in these sides’ last few meetings, with Farrell retaining Peter O’Mahony in his back row to aid captain Ryan in that area.

The pair of them worked together superbly last time out against Wales, although Maro Itoje and co. will intend to slow and stop the Irish supply line.

Ireland’s maul hasn’t fired in recent times and simply must be better today, while their management of the kicking game will also be vital as the fresh halfback pairing of Jamison Gibson-Park, who starts ahead of Conor Murray, and Ross Byrne look to steer the ship. It’s another area England have been far better than them, with Ben Youngs and Owen Farrell both astute with the boot, as well as centre Henry Slade and fullback Elliot Daly.

“England will come with a big kicking game and a lot of pressure, trying to put the ball back in behind you,” said Murphy.

a-view-of-training Billy Stickland / INPHO Ireland at yesterday's captain's run. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s making sure that we’re on top of that, making sure we can deal with the stuff coming into our backfield will be important and how we get out of our end.”

“Field position is going to be massively important and when we get the chance to fire the shots we need to take them and not go into our shell.”

There were promising signs from Ireland’s set-piece attack last time out against Wales, but England’s smothering defensive strength should make their lives much more difficult today.

Both teams have different-looking midfield pairings for this clash, with Slade partnering Ollie Lawrence on what is the Worcester man’s third cap for England, as Bundee Aki and Munster’s Chris Farrell team up for Ireland.

“Bundee and Chris are big, strong men – very physical but also with the ability to play the ball to the outside,” said Murphy.

“Trying to use their strengths, which is their ball carrying, is going to be very important.”

Aki and Farrell will likely be prominent figures if Ireland can get into their attacking flow, but a ferocious contest for possession at the breakdown awaits. The likes of CJ Stander, Porter, Caelan Doris, O’Mahony, Kelleher and Aki will be at the forefront of Ireland’s charge for turnovers, while the English have major defensive weapons of their own in Itoje, the chop-tackling Sam Underhill, and Tom Curry.

Jones has retained Jonathan Joseph on the right wing in a roaming role that will see him pop up all over the pitch, while Jonny May is a lethal finisher and a very rounded player at the same time.

Of course, Ireland have their own shiny new back-three weapon in the form of James Lowe, who will be looking to add to his debut try against Wales as the experienced Keith Earls returns on the right wing and Hugo Keenan gets his second start at fullback.

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andy-farrell-with-james-ryan Billy Stickland / INPHO Andy Farrell with James Ryan. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Leading the way for Ireland will be Ryan, whose first time being named captain at this level comes in the toughest place of all.

“Over the last year, he’s taken a massive stride forward,” said Murphy. “He’s very comfortable in his own skin. He’s obviously a massive presence physically and when he speaks, he speaks really well.

“So I think at 24, he’s quite young but he shows all the characteristics of being a really good leader. I think all the boys are happy to see him lead them out and they are there to help him.”


15. Elliot Daly
14. Jonathan Joseph
13. Ollie Lawrence
12. Henry Slade
11. Jonny May
10. Owen Farrell (captain)
9. Ben Young3

1. Mako Vunipola
2. Jamie George
3. Kyle Sinckler
4. Maro Itoje
5. Joe Launchbury
6. Tom Curry
7. Sam Underhill
8. Billy Vunipola


16. Tom Dunn
17. Ellis Genge
18. Will Stuart
19. Jonny Hill
20. Ben Earl
21. Dan Robson
22. George Ford
23. Max Malins


15. Hugo Keenan
14. Keith Earls
13. Chris Farrell
12. Bundee Aki
11. James Lowe
10. Ross Byrne
9. Jamison Gibson-Park

1. Cian Healy
2. Ronan Kelleher
3. Andrew Porter
4. Quinn Roux
5. James Ryan (captain)
6. CJ Stander
7. Peter O’Mahony
8. Caelan Doris


16. Rob Herring
17. Ed Byrne
18. Finlay Bealham
19. Iain Henderson
20. Will Connors
21. Conor Murray
22. Billy Burns
23. Jacob Stockdale

Referee: Pascal Gaüzère [FFR].

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