England face Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday in match that could go a long way to deciding the winner of this year’s RBS 6 Nations.
Ireland won their opening two matches of the tournament and victory will see them collect the Triple Crown and stay on course for a first Grand Slam since 2009.
But England will be full of confidence as they return to fortress Twickenham, where they are looking to secure a fifth successive win in the RBS 6 Nations and keep their own title hopes alive.
We take a look at three fascinating match-ups that could be the key to deciding the outcome of the match.
OWEN FARRELL V JONNY SEXTON
Farrell has improved immeasurably in the last 12 months, his game is more rounded, he offers more in attack, eyeing half-breaks and he has got his backline moving in the right direction.
How much of that is down to what he picked up from Sexton on the Lions tour when they roomed together, trained together and became “buddies” is impossible to say.
But similarities are hard to miss in their personality, approach and style of play, particularly with Sexton seemingly refreshed by being back in the Irish environment after his move to France.
All that said, the Irishman still holds the aces. He has not missed a tackle down his channel and is tactically astute with ball in hand and off boot, boasting a better kicking percentage of 83% to the 60% of the man he labelled an “honorary Irishman” down under.
DYLAN HARTLEY v RORY BEST
The two number twos will forever be linked by the fact that Hartley’s ill-discipline when Saint became sinner in the Premiership final cost him a place on the Lions tour, for which he was replaced by Best.
The Englishman went on holiday to Los Angeles to get away from it all, while Best failed to cover himself in glory down under, but they have made amends this season – both overseeing a 90% success rate in the lineout.
Hartley has nailed down the England spot and was faultless with his lineout throwing last time out against Scotland.
Best, who has recovered from breaking his arm against New Zealand in November, hit 94% with his throwing in against Wales, and like Hartley was a prominent presence around the pitch in the tackle and the breakdown.
COURTNEY LAWES v PAUL O’CONNELL
Lawes has been a revelation this season. Gone is the hot-headed tyro intent on lining up the next big hit and in his place is a lineout leader of consummate control.
He has 18 lineout takes to his name, 50% more than the next man in the tournament, including three steals, and constantly shows for the ball in the loose.
That “next man” is Devin Toner, and while the giant Leinsterman will pose problems, particularly at the lineout, it is Irish captain O’Connell who is the man to keep an eye on.
He is the master of the domain and will look to assert his authority, having proved his fitness in the last round after recovering from illness. He is one of the ultimate big-game performers and this is a step up for the new Lawes.