On Saturday England could win its first RBS 6 Nations grand slam in eight years. Victory over Ireland at Lansdowne Road will set them on a potential path for glory in the World Cup. And I really hope they pull it off. Even though I'm Irish. Read on to find out why.
I won't be supporting Ireland on Saturday because I really want England to win. Whilst my fellow (Irish) countrymen will take a dim view of that statement, I'm going to use this medium to explain my point before they get a chance to hunt me down.
For the first 18 years of my life, I lived in Ireland. I was born to Irish parents, I married an Irish woman and my kids have Irish passports. However, for the other 19 of my 37 years, England has been developing in me a loyalty all of its own. It is after all where I now live, where I work, where we as a family call home and my kids have English accents.
And so it is, with every clash between England and Ireland (particularly in rugby) I'm split in two as to who I should support. Even though home is where the heart is, there's a huge piece of me that can't let go of that Irish pride and insist on supporting Ireland. But this time it's different.
Everyone I've spoken to during this RBS 6 Nations tournament agrees that the current Ireland team is just a little over the hill. O'Gara might well be the sixth highest scorer in international rugby but he walked off the pitch on Saturday potentially costing Ireland the match against Wales (sure, it wasn't him personally, but he would have scored where Sexton missed, I'm sure of it).
O'Driscoll is a powerhouse in any side and none more so than when he has green on his back. But, in the tense closing minutes of Saturday's match his usual gap-finding magic had vanished and Ireland were left scoreless on the Welsh try-line. Stringer played well but some of those he passed the ball to didn't. And that kind of sums up Ireland's form during this six nations.
England, on the other hand have been playing brilliantly. At least when it comes to getting the required results. For every game in this RBS 6 Nations there have been mistakes made, opportunities lost and team debriefs which, I'm sure, have dissected each and every one of them in minute detail.
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It seems to have taken Martin Johnson a while to get his side up to speed, but now they're motoring, everything fits together. The attitude, the results, the humility all come together to build a side which is capable, confident without being cocky but most importantly, deserving.
And that's the key. England should win on Saturday because they deserve to.
They've worked hard to get this far. The word from inside the England camp isn't of six nations glory or the grand slam. It's of a match against Ireland. They're taking this thing one step at a time. No more, no less. That focus matched with the determination will see them right, I'm sure.
Winning on Saturday won't just be a great result for England in the six nations but it'll be something that sets the team up for an incredible rugby year. With the World Cup happening later in the year, any team on the kind of form England is displaying right now against it's northern hemisphere competitors is sure to set them up for victory later in the year.
Meanwhile though, there's 80 hard minutes for them to see their way through on Saturday. The end of which could see the England team walking away with the RBS 6 Nations crown, the grand slam and the pleasure of beating Ireland on their home turf. However, the Irish team also have a habit of pulling it out of the bag when you least expect it. I really hope this isn't going to be one of those times. Do you?