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history beckons England geared up to tackle O’Connell influence as they look to complete five wins in a row over Ireland

Hill and Proudfoot wary of emotional Irish display in Stander’s last stand


Ireland forwards coach Paul O'Connell. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Ireland forwards coach Paul O'Connell. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Ireland forwards coach Paul O'Connell. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

The trophy is on offer elsewhere, but a little bit of history beckons for England on Saturday as they look to complete five wins in a row over Ireland for the first time since 1999.

Eddie Jones has achieved much in his time in charge, but the way he has turned a once-close rivalry into one-way traffic is amongst his most impressive. Since England made it six-in-a-row in 2000, there have been some big wins and streaky runs, but these two teams have always been pretty evenly matched.

The reaction to that 50-18 defeat at Twickenham paved the way for the most successful 20 years of Irish rugby history, but England’s 32-20 win in Dublin on the opening day of the 2019 Six Nations looks to have had the reverse impact.

A powerful, skilful English performance at the Aviva Stadium knocked the wind out of Joe Schmidt’s side’s sails and, in truth, they’re still trying to find their way back on course two years later.

England followed up that gut punch with a knockout blow as they inflicted a record score on Ireland in the World Cup warm-up that August, while they won both meetings between the teams last year in Twickenham at a canter.

Led by Maro Itoje, England have had Ireland at arm’s length in the physical stakes in all of the recent meetings between the teams.

Having masterminded South Africa’s decimation of England’s pack in the 2019 World Cup final, Matt Proudfoot was recruited by Jones to take charge of his forward pack and he dialled into the team’s media call yesterday to consider the relationship between these two teams.

“I don’t think I ever expect a team to dominate another team physically,” he said. “It’s the nature of the contest, it’s got to do with belief and the togetherness in the team.

“Ireland are a very well-coached team and I know we are a very well-coached team so it’s going to be about that belief and togetherness, the two sides going at each other, and then those big pressure points, who gets on top of each other in those pressure points.

“Test match rugby has got very fine margins. One or two per cent in a particular area has a massive effect, right the way through the game.

“We have identified crucial areas in the Irish game where they like to create pressure and we have prepared for that this week.

“So if we can get dominance in those particular areas we can get on the front foot, and that’s what’s important.”

Having lost their way in the early stages of this Six Nations, England rediscovered their mojo in that sensational win over France last Saturday.

Forward dominance is key to all they do and Exeter Chiefs lock Jonny Hill believes the addition of Paul O’Connell to the backroom team will improve this weekend’s hosts.

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"Having looked closely the last few days, they've had a really good performance defensively,” he said when asked about James Ryan’s absence from the Irish lineout.

“I think Paul O'Connell has added a lot to them with his coaching, they've made lots of good steps forward, they're getting a lot of guys in the air defensively.

"When they're winning the ball, they're taking good options and their maul is pretty effective as well.

“James Ryan is going to miss out, but Peter O'Mahony will probably come back in and Tadhg Beirne to go into the row alongside Henderson. They're a very good partnership .

"It's our toughest challenge this weekend, set-piece-wise in the lineout, so it's something we've spent a bit of time on and we're looking forward to."

One of the newer names on the England team sheet, Hill has been an integral player for Exeter Chiefs in recent seasons. Physically abrasive and strong at set-piece, he’s a good foil for Itoje.

O’Connell, he explains, was someone he looked up to as a young player.

“I watched a lot of Paul. I thought he was really good. One of the talismans of European rugby,” he said.

"Watching him play, listening to some of his speeches over the years have been something I've always enjoyed hearing and things like that.

"We know he's behind (the lineout) but he's not out there, unfortunately for Ireland. He's going to be the guy preparing them during the week so it's about us seeing themes.

"It's no different from any other game, but we just need to make sure when we hit the pitch we're right on it."

Despite the lack of a crowd, both men are expecting an emotional Ireland performance as the players look to send the retiring CJ Stander out on a high.

“We can take confidence from it,” Hill said of England’s recent record against Ireland. “But they're going to be aware of that as well, so they're going to be raising their game playing in the Aviva.

“It's going to be a huge game for them and CJ Stander's potential last-ever international game, so they're going to be wanting to send him off in a big hurrah so it's something we've got to rise to."

Proudfoot has been coaching against Stander since he was working with the Stormers of Cape Town and the powerful kid from George was making a name for himself at the Bulls of Pretoria.

"Early days. 2010, 2011, 2012, when he burst onto the scene playing in a massive Bulls team, we used to have great contests against him and he was incredible,” he recalled.

"Like myself, he made a decision for his life and it took him on an incredible adventure. He was loyal to that adventure and for that I congratulate him. Well done, you know, it’s an incredible career.

“Every person makes that decision in their life. If you read his statement, he'd thought it through, he's taken a lot of things into account and he's very, very grateful for the experience of being part of a generation of a highly successful Irish and Munster teams.

"That's reflective of the type of human being is, giving everything he's got to his province and his team.

“He's been a talisman for their pack and team for a long, long time.

"He plays with his heart on his sleeve. He's a tough, tough competitor, tough man.

"I'm sure they'll want to close his chapter on the right note. We can expected a highly-motivated Irish team really looking to come at us. We need to confront that and get ourselves on the front foot."

Having clicked last Saturday, one senses England are happy enough to be talking about Stander and Ireland as they aim to check out of a disappointing campaign on a high by making it five in a row in this fixture.

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