Owen Farrell has warned Ireland they will target him at their peril as England attempt to ignite their pursuit of the Guinness Six Nations title by recording a first victory in Dublin for six years.
Farrell’s temperament has been identified as a weakness by Irish Grand Slam winner Peter Stringer, who claimed the champions would deliberately attempt to unsettle his former Saracens half-back partner knowing he is a “hothead”.
Stringer could cite a string of recent events as evidence – Farrell escaped punishment for illegal tackles against South Africa and Australia last autumn, while in December and January he received warnings from referees for back chat and overly-aggressive communication.
England’s captain, however, insists the picture being painted of him is inaccurate.
“It’s up to Peter what he says. I don’t know how long ago it is that I played with him – it seems like a long time ago,” said Farrell.
“I don’t know if he thinks I’ve not changed. He’s entitled to his opinion. I’m competitive. I’ll look to do my job on the field and that’s all that matters.
It’s a passionate place with a passionate crowd and they’re a passionate team.Owen Farrell
“Everyone has changed, haven’t they? Everyone tries to get better, everyone tries to grow. All I’m trying to do is be the best I can be.
“I can’t remember that person (the hot head) and I don’t need to. I’m happy with how I am and the way things are going.”
England have been strengthened by the return from injury of their most powerful ball-carriers Mako and Billy Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi, the trio included in the same starting XV for the first time.
Tuilagi is making his first Six Nations start in six years in the unaccustomed position of inside centre after Ben Te’o was ruled out by a side strain, while Elliot Daly will be able to prove his future lies at full-back when he faces the aerial barrage directed by Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton.
On the left wing is Jack Nowell, who England coach Eddie Jones has selected for the Dublin showdown due to his “street fighter” qualities. Farrell was part of the last England team to prevail at the Aviva Stadium in 2013 and knows what is coming.
“It’s a passionate place with a passionate crowd and they’re a passionate team,” said the British and Irish Lions fly-half.
“You’ve seen that from big Munster nights and big Leinster nights in Dublin. You see how tough those places are to go.
“That probably says you need to get your start right, that you stick in the fight as well as take it to them.
“It’s always a balance in terms of being clear-headed, but being aggressive and as combative as you need to be in these big games. We’ve just got to play the game.
“They’re where they are in the world rankings at the minute and rightly so. We’re looking to get up there.”
Jonny May insists England plan to “fire some shots” against Ireland coach Joe Schmidt’s men.
“We know Ireland and we know their threats, but it’s really a case of focusing on what we’re going to do,” he said. “We’ve been practising our game plan for 10 days and we know what we want to do.
“Do we want to have a go at them and score some points? Of course we do.”
England have been tapping into inside knowledge gathered during the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour to help devise their plan to unpick Andy Farrell’s Ireland defence.
Farrell is recognised as the sport’s foremost coach in his area and breaking down the Guinness Six Nations champions is critical to causing an upset in today’s Aviva Stadium collision.
Ireland enter the contest as emphatic favourites to make a successful start to their title defence, with the kicking mastery of Sexton and Murray a crucial asset.
“Ireland have very, very good players who have played a lot together,” admitted Wisemantel.
Dave Craven’s view on England’s chances: Page 5.