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Monday, 19 November, 2018

Pace and potency of England attack too much for rattled Irish

No let-up as champions aim for back-to-back Grand Slams

England centre Jonathan Joseph ran in three tries against Scotland
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Six Nations
ITV & RTE2, 5pm Saturday

It’s not the title-decider many had hoped for but even though England have claimed the Six Nations crown with a week to spare, this year’s final clash at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium still has all the makings of a humdinger.

For England of course there’s a Grand Slam to be won - a second in a row - and victory will set a new tier-one record of 19 consecutive Test victories.

Of course Ireland would dearly love to be the team to end that record run, just as they did to New Zealand in the autumn, but there is much more than that driving on the home side.

With four teams standing on two wins and two defeats after four rounds the final match will define their campaign and Ireland haven’t ended with three losses since their disastrous 2013 campaign when they were beaten by Italy for the first time this century.

England have fallen at the last in the past, and did so in Dublin in 2001 when they were on course for a Slam, but they have moved on to another level under Eddie Jones.

The Australian has upped their fitness and focus and won’t allow a backward step, as he showed back against the Wallabies in the summer when England won the first two Tests but Jones made it clear he would settle for nothing less than a 3-0 sweep.

After three stuttering performances England clicked into top gear against Scotland last weekend, making light work of an eight-point handicap as they ran in seven tries in a 61-21 romp.

Jonathan Joseph, dropped earlier in the tournament after a couple of quiet performances, ran in a hat-trick of tries and with the Bath centre in the backline again along with wingers Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly there is a lot of pace and variety to England's attack.

Like Watson, number eight Billy Vunipola was injured at the start of the Six Nations but he makes his first start to add to the potency of that attack, but while England are in the fortunate position of welcoming back players, injuries have been less kind to Ireland.

Scrum-half Conor Murray is the big absentee for the hosts as he marshals their play so well and his box-kicking is an important part of their game.

But full-back Rob Kearney is also sidelined and they will miss his ability to dominate in the air as he is so assured under the high ball.

Ireland came under fire for being too predictable in attack in their defeat to Wales and they face a dual challenge of trying to get past England's powerful defence and to hold out against their potent attack.

It will take a performance on a par with their historic victory over New Zealand but England look more than ready for the challenge. If they get in front they could pull well clear by the end and a double-figure winning margin appears a value wager.

Recommendation
England to win by 13 points or more
2pts 3-1 Hills

After three stuttering performances England clicked into top gear against Scotland last weekend, making light work of an eight-point handicap
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