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Rugby | Six Nations

Eddie Jones © Getty Images

History boys England aim for St Patrick's Slam party

England face Ireland in a Six Nations showdown at Lansdowne Road on Saturday seeking a back-to-back Grand Slam and a record 19 consecutive Test wins by a leading nation.

Perhaps only England coach Eddie Jones could arrive for a match in Dublin on St Patrick's weekend and talk about how the Irish love to "spoil a party" rather than give one.

But, in rugby union terms at least, the Australian has a point, and the Irish will be doing their utmost to bury English hopes.

Victory in the final match of the 2017 Six Nations would mean England eclipse the All Blacks' record of 18 Test wins in a row and also see them become the first side in the Six Nations era to complete back-to-back Grand Slams.

"We've got to embrace it," said England scrum-half Ben Youngs of the daunting challenge ahead.

"Eddie spoke really well when he addressed the side on Sunday evening about that chance to make that step.

"He said the last thing we want to do is use that as a negative thing and hold us back in any way, shape or form."

England come into the game having hammered Scotland 61-21 at Twickenham last week to retain the Six Nations title.

Jones, yet to lose a match in charge of England, has arguably selected his strongest side of the tournament, with powerhouse back-row Billy Vunipola starting at No 8 and Anthony Watson, who scored a superb try off the bench against Scotland, on the wing.

By contrast Ireland, whose title hopes evaporated with a 22-9 loss to Wales in Cardiff last week, must do without injured scrum-half Conor Murray, a pivotal figure.

And yet Jones said the fact England had already secured the title "makes us vulnerable", while Ireland have "nothing to fear."

That's not quite accurate as defeat for Ireland could see them lose a coveted place in the top four of the world rankings and preferential seeding come May's draw for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Moreover, it was Ireland who confounded plenty of pundits by beating New Zealand 40-29 in Chicago in November to end the world champions' 18-match winning streak.

They would love to be the team that similarly stop England in their tracks.

"Any team can be beaten on their day," said Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, a New Zealander who masterminded Ireland's surprise win over his own country.

"Who would have picked us to win in Chicago at 13/1 in a two-horse race? That's what people love about sport.

"Can we (win)? We have to believe we can," added Schmidt, who nevertheless ruefully observed that England "are getting guys back and we're bleeding a few guys that offer experience and quality, particularly in Conor".

Meanwhile Saturday's Irish Times said Ireland's task was akin to that of the crew hunting the shark in the movie Jaws who are told by actor Roy Scheider after he first sees the frightening beast: "You're gonna need a bigger boat".

Triple Slam

A win for the senior men's side would complete a notable weekend for England in Dublin after their women's and men's Under-20 teams beat their Irish counterparts on Friday to complete Grand Slams of their own.

England's women and men's Under-20s are the reigning world champions, with Jones bidding to achieve the same with his side by dethroning New Zealand at the 2019 World Cup in Japan. 

Wales and Scotland could yet finish second if they win their concluding matches against France and Italy respectively and other results go their way.

Saturday's fixtures offer players from the Home Unions of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales the chance to press their claim for places in the British and Irish Lions squad that will tour New Zealand later this year.

"I've mentioned it before, but not one player has mentioned the Lions to each other," Wales's Sam Warburton, the combined side's victorious captain during their 2013 series triumph in Australia, said this week.

Frankly, the odds on that being completely true are rather longer than 13/1.


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