Stuart Lancaster wants his England players on the edge of their mental and physical threshold tomorrow as they attempt to rewrite a decade of history in Dublin.
England have not won in the Six Nations in the Irish capital since their grand slam-winning campaign of 2003 and if they are to remain on course for a full complement of wins in this year’s tournament, being sharp in all areas will be imperative.
Lancaster has steeled England for an onslaught from Ireland and reminded them of the brutal lessons they learned on last summer’s tour of South Africa. The Springboks stormed into a 22-3 lead in the first 20 minutes of the Johannesburg Test and, although England fought back valiantly, the damage had been done.
Ireland effectively beat Wales in the opening quarter last week and Lancaster said: “What we can’t afford is to be caught out.
“South Africa and the intensity of those first 20 minutes was a great learning experience. It prepares you for (Dublin) as best you can.
“You have got to hit the balance between being on the edge emotionally to match the Irish in those physical areas such as the breakdown and not so over that you become ill-disciplined and you lose sense of your game plan.
“That is the art of coaching – trying to get the players in a state of mind so they are at that tipping point so they can maintain it for 80 minutes.
“If you are not up for it enough, as you saw two years ago, it is all over. If you are too much up for it then – well then it’s all over.”
As expected, Lancaster made just one change to the side that beat Scotland 38-18 last weekend, with James Haskell starting at blindside flanker and Tom Wood shifting across to No 8 in place of the injured Ben Morgan.
Lancaster resisted the temptation to start with Manu Tuilagi in midfield and has instead primed him to make a game-changing impact off the bench, a seat he will occupy for the first time in a Test match alongside the likes of Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes.
Leeds-born No 9 Danny Care is again on the bench but the return of Tuilagi means former Rotherham winger David Strettle is out.
“I am sure Manu will be highly motivated,” said Lancaster.
“He is not match fit yet and it became apparent to me the most effective way of using Manu would be off the bench and I’m sure he will come on and be a ball-carrier for us. And not just him. Look at the quality of the people on the bench. There is no doubt it will make a big difference. To have Manu, Dylan and Courtney is hopefully going to be a point of difference for us.”
With Tuilagi benched, the direct challenge of facing down midfield marvel Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy, the world’s most experienced centre partnership, falls to Billy Twelvetrees and Brad Barritt.
Barritt is England’s defensive leader and will line up opposite O’Driscoll in the outside centre channel with Twelvetrees given the chance to continue after an eye-catching debut.
Lancaster added: “O’Driscoll is undoubtedly a key player. The quality of his performance last week and what he brings to the Irish side is incredible really.
“They have quality running throughout the spine of their team and O’Driscoll heads it.
“We didn’t have Manu last week and we managed to get across the gain line okay.”
“I thought James Haskell did well and Tom Youngs and Brad Barritt got across the gain line. If you build your game around one or two players only who can carry the ball, you will be an easy team to defend against.
“Billy gave our attack a different dimension (against Scotland).
“When you have combinations training and playing together, with a good understanding of the plays and timing that goes with it, you sometimes have to reward the lads who have played well.
“Everyone has an understanding you have to earn the right to get in the team.”
Declan Kidney was able to name an unchanged starting XV after centre Gordon D’Arcy and flanker Peter O’Mahony were passed fit.
D’Arcy has recovered from the dead leg he sustained against Wales, while O’Mahony has been given the all-clear after suffering concussion in the same match.
“The players have recovered pretty well from the Wales game,” said Kidney.
Ireland’s talisman: Page 8.