England’s Itoje a doubt for Ireland game

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Maro Itoje
Maro Itoje has started all three of England’s 2022 Six Nations games so far
Venue: Twickenham Date: Saturday, 12 March Kick-off: 16:45 GMT
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Radio Ulster; text commentary and highlights on BBC Sport website and mobile app.

England lock Maro Itoje is a doubt for their pivotal Six Nations match against Ireland at Twickenham after becoming unwell overnight.

England are “cautiously optimistic” Itoje will be available, but he will miss Friday’s captain’s run.

Forwards coach Richard Cockerill will not be at Twickenham after testing positive for Covid-19.

Joe Launchbury is England’s second row option on the bench, with lock Nick Isiekwe left out of the squad.

Both teams need victory to keep their title chances alive.

Ireland have been the more impressive side so far in this Six Nations and their confidence will be boosted by a convincing home win last year.

England defeated Wales last time out but they are still trying to find the right formula in this tournament.

Their Six Nations home record remains strong, with 22 wins in 25 matches.

Head coach Eddie Jones believes Ireland start as “red-hot favourites” despite England winning four of the past five Six Nations encounters at Twickenham.

Ireland thrashed 12-man Italy in round three although they have triumphed just once in London since 2010 in this championship.

Team news

England have been boosted by the availability of flanker Tom Curry, who passed the return-to-play protocols after he sustained a head injury in the first half against Wales.

They make three changes, with Sam Simmonds starting at number eight and Alex Dombrandt on the bench after coming out of Covid isolation.

Jamie George replaces the injured Luke Cowan-Dickie at hooker and Joe Marchant is preferred to Elliott Daly at centre, who drops to the bench.

Lock Launchbury is included among the replacements and could make his first Six Nations appearance in two years after recovering from a serious knee injury.

While Cockerill will miss the game, all the players and other staff tested negative on Friday.

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton – who announced earlier this week that he will retire after next year’s Rugby World Cup – starts for the first time in this tournament in one of six changes.

Prop Cian Healy will also make his first start of this year’s championship in place of the injured Andrew Porter, with full-back Hugo Keenan, wing Andrew Conway, centre Bundee Aki and prop James Ryan all returning.

Centre Robbie Henshaw joins fly-half Joey Carbery in dropping to the bench, while full-back Michael Lowry, wing Mack Hansen and second-row Ryan Baird have been omitted from the matchday squad.

Commentator’s notes

Andrew Cotter: “It is customary now for Eddie Jones to build up opponents and somehow portray England as the underdogs, but for this game there are few disagreeing with him.

“However, it’s worth noting that even in a golden era Ireland have only won once at Twickenham in their last eight visits. What’s more, England do have Tom Curry available.

“The one major loss for Ireland is Andrew Porter at loose-head prop – while replacement Cian Healy does brings plenty of experience he can’t match Porter’s sheer strength.

“But the visitors will be lifted by the return of Johnny Sexton to fly-half on what we now know will be his final Six Nations appearance for Ireland at Twickenham. A big player for a huge occasion with the winner remaining in the hunt for the title on the final weekend.”

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell (left) and England head coach Eddie Jones (right) shake hands ahead of the 2019 Six Nations contest
England head coach Eddie Jones (right) oversaw a 24-12 win over Irish counterpart Andy Farrell (left) in the most recent Six Nations meeting at Twickenham

View from both camps

England head coach Eddie Jones: “We’ve been looking at this game as a semi-final. Ireland are the most cohesive side in the world right now and it will be a good test this weekend.

“We’ve prepared really well for this game. We did some good team togetherness work in Bristol and had a solid week of training on the pitch here.

“We are looking forward to going after them in front of a great home crowd at Twickenham. It’s been special having 82,000 supporters back in for our Six Nations games and it will be a great Test match for them.”

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell: “We have to make sure England have a bump in the road.

“(The media) say they are building into the competition so we have to stop that. We have to go over there and prove to ourselves there is a performance in there that is a step above what we’ve shown already.”

Line-ups

England: 15-Steward, 14-Malins, 13-Slade, 12-Marchant, 11-Nowell, 10-Smith, 9-Randall; 1-Genge, 2-George, 3-Sinckler, 4-Itoje, 5-Ewels, 6-Lawes (capt), 7-Curry, 8-Simmonds

Replacements: 16-Blamire, 17-Marler, 18-Stuart, 19-Launchbury, 20-Dombrandt, 21-Youngs, 22-Ford, 23-Daly

Ireland: 15-Keenan, 14-Conway, 13-Ringrose, 12-Aki, 11-Lowe, 10-Sexton (capt), 9-Gibson Park; 1-Healy, 2-Sheehan, 3-Furlong, 4-Beirne, 5-Ryan, 6-O’Mahony, 7-Van der Flier, 8-Doris

Replacements: 16-Herring, 17-Kilcoyne, 18-Bealham, 19-Henderson, 20-Conan, 21-Murray, 22-Carbery, 23-Henshaw

England fly-half Marcus Smith gestures during the win over Wales at Twickenham in round three

Match facts

Head-to-head

  • Ireland’s 32-18 win in the 2021 Six Nations ended a run of four defeats against England in all competitions
  • England have won four of the past five meetings at Twickenham in the Six Nations
  • Ireland’s 24-15 win in 2018 is their only Six Nations victory at Twickenham since 2010

England

  • England have won 22 of their past 25 Six Nations matches at home (D1, L2)
  • Scotland and Ireland are the only sides to win at Twickenham since 2012
  • Full-back Freddie Steward has carried the ball for a tournament-high 367m
  • Forwards Maro Itoje and Alex Dombrandt lead this Six Nations for breakdown steals (both four)

Ireland

  • Ireland have averaged 2.9 points per visit to the opposition 22 – the best of any side in the championship this year
  • Wing Mack Hansen (129) and centre Garry Ringrose (109) lead this tournament for post-contact metres
  • Caelan Doris has slowed opposition ball at a tournament-leading seven rucks

Match officials

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)

Touch judges: Mike Adamson (Scotland) & Pierre Brousset (France)

TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)



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