England’s women and Under-20s will attempt to ruin Ireland’s St Patrick’s Day party today by delivering the first two instalments of what could be a remarkable English Grand Slam hat-trick in Dublin this weekend.
Like Eddie Jones’ senior team, the women and youngsters are also bidding for Six Nations Slam glory and will follow each other onto Dublin’s Donnybrook pitch this evening.
Winger Kay Wilson (below) scored seven tries — a Women’s Six Nations record — and Amy Cokayne three as England crossed 12 times in a 64-0 win over Scotland last time out, but head coach Simon Middleton knows Ireland will prove a tougher challenge as both teams have won their four matches in the competition so far.
“We have put ourselves in a position to realise our ambitions of winning the championship but we’re under no illusions of how difficult the task will be,” he said. “Ireland have had a great competition so far, showing immense resilience to win four tough games.
“It promises to be a fantastic end to the tournament and we are confident that we will be as ready as we can to win our first Grand Slam in five years.”
The Red Roses are playing for their first Six Nations title since 2012, with Ireland having won it twice in the past four years. The two sides have met four times since the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup, with England winning the last three matches since Ireland’s 11-8 victory at Ashbourne in the 2015 Women’s Six Nations. That match kicks off at 8pm, two hours after the Under-20s — already crowned Six Nations Champions — look to complete their clean sweep.
England are led by the hugely-impressive Bath No8 Zach Mercer, with many calling for the youngster to be fast-tracked into the England senior squad that is touring Argentina this summer.
Four changes have been made to the side who beat Scotland 33-5 last week, with Harlequins’ Sam Aspland-Robinson, Sale’s Tom Curry — who starts with twin brother Ben for the first time at this level — and Saracens’ Nick Isiekwe returning to the side. Gloucester hooker Henry Walker earns his first start.
England coach Ian Vass said: “Scotland was a stern test for us but we came through it positively and we know facing Ireland on St Patrick’s Day will be another massive challenge. We have been working hard on making sure the players concentrate on how they perform and don’t focus too much on the occasion.
“It’s important we prepare ourselves mentally and physically like we have previously in the tournament and, hopefully, the result will take care of itself.”
Both matches are live on Sky Sports Mix at 5.45pm and 8pm