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Friday, 14 December, 2018

Expect England to dig deep as Ireland seek the slam

Murray may be the man to open things up

Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray scores a try at Twickenham in 2016
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Six Nations round five
ITV & TV3, 2.45pm Saturday

It's not the title-decider many had hoped for at the start of the tournament, but the St Patrick's Day showdown at Twickenham is still a must-win game for both teams.

Ireland have the Six Nations crown on their heads, but unless they win this final fixture they will merely have underlined their standing as a team knocking on the door of the world's best.

A grand slam will be a step further up the ladder, but if they lose they'll be the team who scraped past France, won three home games and couldn't complete the deal.

But the result is no less vital to England and Eddie Jones, who have to restore some faith after consecutive defeats. Those reverses to Scotland and France have shown up some shortcomings in their side, notably their inability to dominate the breakdown and generate quick ball.

Jones will want to remedy that, but he has also overhauled his half-back pairing. Danny Care and George Ford, who offer the biggest attacking threat, are dropped to the bench, with Richard Wigglesworth starting at nine and Owen Farrell switching from inside-centre to fly-half.

There's also a switch in the back row, with James Haskell starting and Don Armand called in on the bench. Both are supreme breakdown operators, but if Jones is relying on them to sort out England's problems, why switch the half-backs too? It looks like a defensive response and England must be concerned at the free-scoring form Ireland have shown.

Wigglesworth helped to improve England's attack when he came off the bench against France last week, but he is generally seen as the conservative option, and his effective territorial kicking game may well set the tone for the opening exchanges.

With 17 tries in their last three matches, Ireland are clearly an attacking force to be reckoned with, and given the questions over England in attack, their first target must be to put the squeeze on and keep Ireland at distance.

The two best defences in the tournament are going head to head - Ireland have conceded just 67 points and England 68 - and this fixture has a reputation for being low-scoring and close-fought. The average score over the last ten meetings is 16-14 in England’s favour and none of the last five have topped 31 points.

Tryscoring opportunities could be at a premium and with conditions likely to be difficult - the forecast is for a better than 50 per cent chnace of snow - it may come down to a battle of the boot. With that in mind, a double-figure price about a half-time draw looks worth taking.

If there is to be a gamebreaker on either team, Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray could be the man to side with.

The experienced number nine grabbed Ireland's only try in a 21-10 2016 Twickenham defeat and if conditions don't allow for an expansive game, the Munster man, with two tries in this tournament already, is so often on the spot to finish forward moves.

Recommendations
Half-time draw
1pt 10-1 Coral, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power
C Murray to score a try
1pt 19-4 bet365


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The two best defences in the tournament are going head to head - Ireland have conceded just 67 points and England 68
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