Six Nations

England expect 'angry' clash

2011-03-18 12:58
Martin Johnson (Gallo)

Dublin - Martin Johnson believes England will need to overcome an Ireland side bristling with anger as his team attempts to win their first Six Nations Grand Slam in eight years on Saturday.

Johnson, who captained England to their last Grand Slam in 2003, returns to Lansdowne Road this weekend as manager of a team who finally look capable of ending their long wait for a Six Nations crown.

Johnson, however, believes a fiercely proud Ireland will be desperate to wreck England's Grand Slam dream after a lacklustre season comprising two unconvincing wins and two disappointing defeats.

The Irish are also nursing a grievance after last weekend's 19-13 defeat in Cardiff, when a refereeing blunder allowed Wales to score what turned out to be the decisive try of the match.

Johnson acknowledged that the circumstances of the defeat at the Millennium Stadium could provide potent motivation for Ireland.

"I think you'd be feeling that anger as a team," Johnson admitted. "It's a pretty powerful thing when teams are like that. It makes them very dangerous."

In all probability, even a defeat on Saturday will probably be enough to give England their first Six Nations crown since 2003.

Their hefty points - for advantage means that Wales would need to score a big win over France in Paris to have any chance of snatching the title.

England's preparations suffered a blow when captain Mike Tindall was ruled out after failing to recover from an ankle injury sustained in last Sunday's unconvincing 22-16 win over Scotland at Twickenham.

The loss of Tindall deprives England's starting XV of their sole survivor from the 2003 Grand Slam triumph in Dublin, although Johnson has two veterans of that win - Jonny Wilkinson and Steve Thompson - on the bench.

Number eight Nick Easter will lead England in Tindall's absence while the captain's outside centre spot goes to the powerful Bath No.13 Matt Banahan.

Johnson insists the relative inexperience of the English line-up can be a strength as they chase victory at a venue where they have not won since 2003.

"I said to the boys 'it's a great week, let's enjoy it'. It's good for it to be tense," he said.

Ireland however, who have made three changes to the team which started against Wales, including one positional, are hoping to exploit any possible signs of jitters by the English.

"They will have some nerves like you would for any Grand Slam game and it's our job to try to bring those nerves out and compound them," said Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll.

"If you see a potential frailty you have to go after that," added O'Driscoll, who will equal John Smit's record of 76 Test matches as captain.

O'Driscoll also admitted that the chance to ruin England's Grand Slam party was an additional incentive.

"I can never remember a victory against England that has been brushed over," he said.

"It's always a huge game for us because of the history between the countries and because of the anticipation of the whole nation, not just the rugby supporters, any time we play England.

"The fact England are playing for a Grand Slam heightens the anticipation from an English perspective, but also to a degree from an Irish perspective in that there is an opportunity for us to deny them something.

"It is also a chance to finish this topsy turvy Six Nations on a high with more wins than losses and with a good taste."

Ireland coach, Declan Kidney has recalled Jonathan Sexton at flyhalf ahead of veteran Ronan O'Gara.

Luke Fitzgerald has been dropped at fullback to be replaced by Keith Earls, whose place on the left wing now goes to Andrew Trimble.

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