Prop Dan Cole’s injury could not have come at a worse time for England coach Stuart Lancaster and with the Red Rose shorn of two British Lions from their front row, the 13/8 odds on an Ireland win at Twickenham look too good to miss.
Joe Schmidt’s boys in green came into this tournament with a multitude of question marks hanging over their normally fragile pack, but after beating up Wales in Dublin and running out 26-3 winners against Warren Gatland’s defending champions, the Irish are now 13/8 co-favourites to finish top of the pile.
It’s not hard to see why, as the seamless transition into the first XV of former fringe players – such as winger Dave Kearney, lock Devon Toner and flankers Chris Henry and Peter O’ Mahoney, who’s arguably the player of the tournament so far – has been a huge plus for new coach Schmidt.
Fly-half Jonny Sexton has proved once again that he is the best playmaker in the southern hemisphere, while evergreen stalwarts Gordon D’Arcy, Paul O’Connell and the retiring (but never shy) Brian O’Driscoll keep digging deep and finding more for their country.
With the game likely to be won at the breakdown, Cole’s loss at tighthead – allied with fellow Lions prop Alex Corbisiero’s absence at loosehead – has led Lancaster to recall Bath’s David Wilson, who’s just back from two months out through injury.
This forced selection doesn’t bode well for the hosts against the Irish, whose front row of Cian Healy, Rory Best and Mike Ross was firing on all cylinders during the win against Wales, and in the 26-8 victory over Scotland at the Aviva.
With 17-cap 23-year-old Joe Marler on the other side of hooker Dylan Hartley at the head of the scrum, Schmidt will surely work to expose England’s relative inexperience in that key area.
Considering the form Ireland’s half-back combination of Sexton and Conor Murray have shown over the past 18 months, it’s hard to see England dominating possession at Twickenham and Ireland should beat a talented young team that the Six Nations 2014 has come too quickly for.
It was Paddy Jackson’s turn to benefit to the tune of a try from Ireland’s rolling maul against the Welsh, but that’s usually number eight Jamie Heaslip’s trick, so back the greens’ part-time captain to bundle over for his 10th international try at some point in the match at 5/1.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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