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IT’S HARD TO shake off the concerns that built during the Six Nations, most Ireland fans will tell you.
It must be difficult for Joe Schmidt and his players to ignore those doubts too.
There have even been references to 2007 in the last couple of weeks – many of those mentions accompanied by the kind of frantic laugh a driver might deliver as he assures his passengers that he’s definitely not lost.
Ireland at Twickenham yesterday.
Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
It is absolutely too early to be drawing genuine comparisons with that ill-fated campaign but it does also feel that Ireland’s clash with England at Twickenham this afternoon [KO 3pm, Sky Sports Action] has more riding on it than your regular World Cup warm-up fixture.
Most Ireland supporters won’t need reminding, but it was Eddie Jones’ side who shook Joe Schmidt’s team out of the stunning momentum they had built in a remarkable 2018 that included a Grand Slam, series success in Australia and a win over the All Blacks.
Schmidt admitted his players were “a bit broken” by that defeat in Dublin, where they were physically outmuscled and outsmarted by Jones’ intelligent game plan. A dark opening day seemed to feed into the rest of the Six Nations and Ireland saved worst for last when they were very poor away to Wales as Warren Gatland’s men claimed the Grand Slam.
While Ireland overcame Italy two weekends ago in their first warm-up game, the return of the majority of their front-line stars today against the opponent that seemingly unsettled them back in February means this encounter is likely to be tasty.
Getting right for the World Cup is the main key this summer but a win at Twickenham – where the heat could reach 30°C – would be very welcome for Schmidt’s men.
“There’s no point in hiding from the fact that they came to Dublin and right from the first exchanges they sort of dominated us in the areas where we take a lot of pride in how good we are,” says Ireland captain Rory Best. “We got bullied a little bit.
“That’s probably the big area for us to be better. Obviously, the circumstances will be slightly different; a World Cup warm-up versus the first game of the Six Nations.
“For us, it’s about making sure those opening exchanges
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