The Grand Slam-chasing Ireland welcomes a wounded England to Dublin on St Patrick’s Day weekend in what promises to be an exciting conclusion to the 2023 Six Nations.
Saturday’s tournament finale at the Aviva Stadium could be a watershed moment for Ireland under Andy Farrell.
The Irish, who entered the competition as the world’s number one team, have expertly navigated their way through the first four rounds to give themselves a chance to win a fourth Grand Slam – and the first in Dublin.
A Six Nations clean sweep would be the ultimate statement six months before the World Cup in France, following a memorable 2022 that included a Test series victory over the All Blacks in New Zealand.
England is in a different situation. After having their title hopes snuffed out by a rampant France at Twickenham last week, Steve Borthwick’s team arrives in Dublin with two main goals in mind: restoring pride and ruining the Irish party.
Of course, England aren’t the only ones planning to rain on Ireland’s parade; France can still retain their title. To have a chance, Les Bleus must defeat Wales in Paris (14:45 GMT) before Ireland and England meet on Lansdowne Road.
Scotland takes on Italy at Murrayfield (12:30 GMT), which will be broadcast live on BBC One.
Ireland have dealt with everything the Six Nations has thrown at them, from key player injuries to grinding out victories when they haven’t been at their best.
The most impressive Irish performance came in round two against France in Dublin, when Farrell’s men won 32-19 in an epic battle between the world’s top two sides.
Beating the holders felt big, but defeating England to deliver a Grand Slam in Dublin for the first time brings even greater pressure, and Farrell has called on his players to show calmness in the midst of the “circus”.
“All of this stuff that you guys [the media] are going to write becomes part of the circus, you know, managing all of that,” he said.
“But anyone who has ever played in a big game knows that once you cross the white line, all bets are off. Isn’t it time to get down to business?
“After the first five minutes, all the emotion is gone, and you have to be at your best.
“Desperation is an illness in my opinion. You should try to avoid doing so.
“When you’re desperate, you can’t be precise. Being calm enough to be yourself while also being controlled enough to be precise when it matters is a temperament that we all strive for.”
England is eager to atone for their humiliation at Twickenham.
Even if there is no chance of a title, this is an important game for an England side looking to avenge their worst home defeat in 113 years of Test rugby against France last week.
Borthwick, who took over as head coach from Eddie Jones in December, sees Saturday as an opportunity to put England back on track in their final tournament before the World Cup.
It will be a tall order, given that Ireland has won their last 13 Tests at home.
“We know that after the bitter disappointment of the performance against an exceptional France side, we will need to be much improved to meet the challenge of playing the world’s number one side,” Borthwick said.
“However, I have seen an England squad determined to avenge their Twickenham defeat.
“I’m confident that the team announced will want to demonstrate the same resilience and attitude that led to our victory in Wales.”
England’s former scrum-half Danny Care on the Rugby Union Daily podcast on BBC Radio 5 Live: “You can make mistakes in decision-making or skill execution, which you can forgive, but the one non-negotiable in rugby, especially when wearing an England shirt, is that you never give up.
“I don’t think England will have an attitude problem this weekend. The players and coaches will not allow it to happen.
“I believe Ireland will win, but England will put up a more combative performance.”
Shane Horgan, former Ireland and British and Irish Lions winger: “Ireland is extremely confident in their ability to deliver a performance.
“That confidence has been built over time. They’ve won a tour in New Zealand, have beaten all of the southern hemisphere teams, and dominated France.
“They’re confident in their abilities and aren’t looking over their shoulders.”
Sexton versus Farrell
As is customary, the performance of Ireland and England will be dictated by their fly-halves, who have been the subject of a contrasting narrative in recent weeks.
This is billed as Johnny Sexton’s big day. It is Ireland’s final Six Nations game, and he has the opportunity to make Irish sporting history by becoming the first captain to win a Grand Slam in Dublin.
He also only needs one point to break Ronan O’Gara’s all-time Six Nations scoring record.
England fly-half Owen Farrell, the son of Ireland head coach Andy, is looking for redemption after being benched in the defeat to France.