Dublin test the perfect barometer for England

MITCH PHILLIPS
Last updated 10:26 07/02/2013

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England have not won a Six Nations game away to Ireland for 10 years and travel to Dublin on Monday (NZ time) for a match that will go a long way towards showing where they really stand in the game's pecking order.

Should they produce anything like that 2003 five-try 42-6 thrashing that earned them their last grand slam to date and set them up for their successful assault on the World Cup later that year then coach Stuart Lancaster will be a very contented man having overseen back-to-back wins over Scotland and New Zealand.

Lancaster's team finished off last year's Six Nations with a similarly comprehensive home win over the Irish, built on the back of a remarkable demolition job on their scrum.

In between those two big wins, however, England often travelled with high hopes, only to be sent packing.

In 2005 Ireland won 19-13 while two years later on an emotionally charged afternoon at Croke Park they handed England a 43-13 mauling, the most points England had ever conceded in the tournament.

In 2009 it was closer, 14-13, but still in Ireland's favour after England had Phil Vickery and Danny Care sin-binned and then-coach Martin Johnson was famously pictured hammering his fist into his desk in frustration.

In 2011 England arrived with four wins and with dreams of a grand slam but Ireland made it four in a row with a 24-8 win and though England still won the title, it was a subdued trophy presentation later that night.

However, England triumphed in Dublin in a World Cup warm-up later that year and Lancaster feels he has discarded the baggage from the four successive championship defeats.

"This is a completely different team going to Dublin from 2011, with a completely different mentality," he told reporters this week.

"Playing the Irish in Dublin is a unique challenge. We've got to be able to deal with the emotion of the occasion and still think clearly, making good, accurate decisions.

"That will be the true test of our maturity. It's a great challenge for us."

Lancaster will name his team on Friday and has found himself with an expected selection dilemma in midfield following the impressive try-scoring debut of Billy Twelvetrees in last weekend's opening win over Scotland.

Brad Barritt, hugely dependable and England's defensive organiser, was shifted to outside centre to accommodate Twelvetrees and Lancaster now has to perm two from three after Manu Tuilagi was passed fit to play following the ankle injury that kept him out on Saturday.

With number eight Ben Morgan probably ruled out with an ankle problem England are expected to start with a back row that finished at Twickenham, with Tom Wood switching to the back of the scrum, James Haskell at six and captain Chris Robshaw on the open side.

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Ireland also got off to a victorious start in Cardiff last week and also have some issues at centre.

Brian O'Driscoll, who was superb against Wales, is fit despite a head injury but Gordon D'Arcy and Keith Earls, the man who replaced D'Arcy during the match, are both struggling and Ireland coach Declan Kidney has delayed naming his team until Friday to give them maximum recovery time.

Potentially more important to the outcome is prop Mike Ross, who limped out of the Wales game with cramp. It was Ross's early departure with a neck injury from last year's game at Twickenham that left the Irish scrum in disarray but he should be fit to start on Sunday.

"Last year is last year," said Ireland's scrum coach Gert Smal. "We've worked on a couple of things."

- Reuters

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