Six Nations - England v Ireland: England’s Davids are braced for Ireland’s Goliaths

Ireland's Stuart McCloskey during the Captain's Run at Twickenham Stadium, London.

Ireland's Stuart McCloskey during the Captain's Run at Twickenham Stadium, London.

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Paul Gustard has sounded a note of defiance on the looming midfield mismatch between England and Ireland by declaring “David didn’t have a problem with Goliath”.

The reigning RBS 6 Nations champions have selected the biggest centre partnership in their history in the form of Robbie Henshaw and Stuart McCloskey, who weigh a combined total of 33 stones.

England are braced for the giant Irish duo to come marauding down the fly-half channel of George Ford – the smallest player on the pitch – while outside Ford stand the relatively lightweight Owen Farrell and Jonathan Joseph.

A defiant Gustard expects his midfield to face down the onslaught in the Six Nations showdown at Twickenham today, however.

“David didn’t have a problem with Goliath did he?” said England’s defence coach.

“George and Owen have defended very well together. And obviously we have an openside who has been very physical in James Haskell and he’s been playing very well.

“Joseph has one of the highest tackle success rates going, so defensively we have been strong.

“This is the team we’ve picked because we believe it’s the team that will get the result we want.”

England head coach Eddie Jones has been disparaging of Ireland’s playing style under Joe Schmidt, criticising the over-reliance on the boot which proved the undoing of Red Rose grand slam ambitions in Dublin last year.

“They kick 70 per cent of their ball away. If they want to do that, good luck to them,” said Jones.

“It has worked for them. It is not the way I think you should play rugby but it has been successful for them, so good luck.”

Statistics show that Ireland have actually kicked 23 and 24 per cent of ball in the first two rounds of the Championship and Gustard knows England must be prepared for all eventualities. “We can’t control what they will do with their attack. It would be easy to pigeonhole McCloskey and Henshaw as a certain type of player,” said Gustard.

“All I can do is prepare a team in a framework and system that I believe is applicable and I think we’ve done that this week.

“It’s up to Ireland how they want to attack, and it’s up to me to put something in place that might surprise them. Or it’s up to me to do the same as I did in the last two weeks.”

Jones lit the fuse ahead of Six Nations third round match by questioning the health of Sexton, who suffered a ‘whiplash injury’ against France nearly two weeks ago. Ireland’s playmaker-in-chief has been given the all clear to play and Jones intends targeting a player who has suffered repeated concussions, but is a hardy defender.

“I’m not the attack coach, so I’ve not looked at Sexton as a defender in any detail, but with the ball in hand he’s a very talented player,” said Gustard.

“If he comes with some tricks we have to be aware of that. Ireland are a clever team and will pose some problems. We have to focus on ourselves, which has been the mantra for the week.”

Rory Best has insisted Ireland will not be dragged into Jones’ “sideshow” on Sexton’s welfare.

Ireland have been at pains all week to rise above England head coach Jones’ verbal barbs ahead of today’s Twickenham encounter, and hooker Best followed suit.

“There’s a lot of things going on in the media, we have enough going on with our own stuff,” said Best.

“We’re not worried about that. We’ve got to make sure we’re as close to perfect as we can be.

“Everything else apart from the rugby is a sideshow that we don’t want to get involved in.

“All we know is that Johnny’s a quality player.”

Privately Ireland are understood to have been frustrated by Jones’ comments, especially 
given Sexton’s head injury history.

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