Eddie Jones has named a near full strength team to face Ireland on Saturday as Ireland continues to allow some competition for those final spots.
Ross Byrne gets his chance to make a claim for a squad place against as tough an opposition as you would like. It does not seem plausible that Sexton, Carbery, Byrne and Carty will all travel, so this might be the only chance he gets to show what he has got.
It is going to be a difficult match for him, with a lot of pressure coming at him from the English defensive line. Assuming we can secure enough set-piece ball, a difficult proposition in itself, he will not have a lot of space in which to work it.
With Bundee Aki back in the squad the English will have to watch defend the crash ball and that might open the door, once or twice for a kick. Byrne’s kicks from hands to the touchline are the best part of his game, and with Jacob Stockdale returning to the wing, Ireland will undoubtedly attempt to cash in from the winger’s height and his skill in the air.
It will be interesting to see how Byrne gets on with Conor Murray at scrum half. The Munster man has built up a brilliant relationship with both Sexton and Carbery, so it may be a challenge to gel quickly with his Leinster colleague. Given Murray’s professionalism and the fact that Byrne often resembles Sexton in his aggressive positioning, there should be no trouble here.
|Joe Marler||1||Cian Healy|
|Jamie George||2||Rory Best (Captain)|
|Kyle Sinckler||3||Tadhg Furlong|
|Maro Itoje||4||Iain Henderson|
|George Kruis||5||Jean Kleyn|
|Tom Curry||6||Peter O’Mahony|
|Sam Underhill||7||Josh van der Flier|
|Billy Vunipola||8||CJ Stander|
|Ben Youngs||9||Conor Murray|
|George Ford||10||Ross Byrne|
|Jonny May||11||Jacob Stockdale|
|Owen Farrell (Captain)||12||Bundee Aki|
|Manu Tuilagi||13||Garry Ringrose|
|Joe Cokanasiga||14||Jordan Larmour|
|Elliot Daly||15||Rob Kearney|
|Luke Cowan-Dickie||16||Sean Cronin|
|Mako Vunipola||17||Jack McGrath|
|Dan Cole||18||Andrew Porter|
|Courtney Lawes||19||Devin Toner|
|Mark Wilson||20||Tadhg Beirne|
|Willi Heinz||21||Luke McGrath|
|Piers Francis||22||Jack Carty|
|Jonathan Joseph||23||Andrew Conway|
The main issue, one which Schmidt alluded to during the week, almost as if making his excuses early, is that the Irish will come into this game having just finished warm weather training in Portugal, attempting to replicate the hot conditions they are likely to face in Japan. Energy sapping stuff, no doubt, that will help tournament preparations, but could limit their last out the full eighty minutes.
A defeat should not be important. Nor should a win. Neither will have much effect on the outcome of the World Cup. The aim here is to give the players game time, so that they can be ready come the end of September, and to resolve the remaining picks.
Kleyn gets a second international, the real test of his credentials. He was brought in the squad to bolster us against muscle heavy teams such as England. They were able to dominate us during the Six Nations game, overpowering us with huge carries, and stamping out our attacks with dominant tackles all around the park.
The rest of the team seems to be about as strong as it can be. It’s possible the back row still has some scope for tinkering, but I’d imagine this is Schmidt’s first choice for the six to eight jerseys.
Tadhg Beirne again starts on the bench. He looked good when he came on two weeks ago, albeit against a poor Italian style, grabbing a turnover at the ruck and generally being his disruptive self all over the park, as if the step up from club to country did not phase him a bit. It’s possible he still has something to prove to ensure his position. Another good showing should get him into the squad.
England have a completely different World Cup schedule to Ireland. They open with relatively easy games against Tonga and then USA. They will be expected to win both matches without breaking a sweat. Argentina, in round three, might prove to be their first real challenge. The Pumas always seem to be at their best in this competition. The final game for England is against the French.
Given that England have a game or two extra to really acclimatise before the tournament really kicks off, it is not surprising that both teams have chosen different paths to get to the competition. Ireland need to be on form on day one against Scotland, and manage a quick, six-day turnaround before another difficult fixture against Japan.
So if the Irish do not seem to be up to the pace of the English, know that this is due to the different preparations the teams have taken, and it is all part of the plan.
The betting reflects this with England 8 point favourites to win. We might not win. It may not be much of a spectacle, but let’s hope we don’t get the bullying that we got earlier in the year. And that there are no further injury worries.