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Published: Saturday February 9, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday April 17, 2013 MYT 2:03:05 AM

Rugby: Dublin day of destiny awaits England

DUBLIN: England will try to consign a decade of Six Nations misery in Dublin to the history books when they face Ireland at Lansdowne Road on Sunday.

Not since a team led by Martin Johnson and coached by Clive Woodward thrashed Ireland 42-6 in 2003, also the year of their last Grand Slam and lone World Cup triumph, have England enjoyed Championship success in the Irish capital.

Much has changed since then, with Johnson resigning as England manager after a desperately poor 2011 World Cup campaign in New Zealand to be replaced last year by the lower-profile Stuart Lancaster.

Yet it was Lancaster's England who beat the world champion All Blacks 38-21 in December and followed up with a 38-18 win over Scotland in their Six Nations opener at Twickenham last week.

However, their recent Dublin history explains why England retain a healthy respect for Ireland, who hammered Wales for much of their first round clash in Cardiff before the defending Grand Slam champions cut the visitors' margin of victory to 30-22.

"What we can't afford is to be caught out," said Lancaster, ahead of a potential title-decider after Italy threw the Championship open by beating pre-tournament favourites France in Rome.

"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."

Lancaster has made just one change, with James Haskell recalled at blindside flanker after No 8 Ben Morgan was ruled out with an ankle problem.

England captain Chris Robshaw remains at openside flanker, with Tom Wood moving from the blindside to No 8.

Lancaster resisted starting fit-again centre Manu Tuilagi and instead kept faith with Billy Twelvetrees, who marked an impressive Test debut against Scotland with a try, to again partner defensive linchpin Brad Barritt.

The powerful Tuilagi had to make do with a place on the bench. "I am sure Manu will be highly motivated," Lancaster said. "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."

While this will be just the England midfield duo's second match together, Ireland centres Brian O'Driscoll, superb against Wales after losing the captaincy to Jamie Heaslip, and Gordon D'Arcy are due to extend their world record centre partnership to 49 Tests.

And yet for all the talent in both back divisions, the contest for possession is likely to prove decisive and how French referee Jerome Garces controls the breakdown could have an important influence on the outcome.

"Fair competition at the breakdown," said Ireland coach Declan Kidney, who has named an unchanged team, when asked what was the key to the match.

Meanwhile Heaslip, Ireland's No 8, was wary of Haskell.

"James is a very powerful individual. He's got good skills and a quick burst of speed. He's very good on the ground as well so when we have the ball we have to keep an eye out for him and Robshaw at the breakdown."

Lately, Ireland have found it difficult to string two good performances together, although no one would begrudge O'Driscoll a slight dip after his mammoth Millennium Stadium display.

No one that is except the 34-year-old veteran of 121 Ireland Tests himself.

O'Driscoll is bidding his for eighth successive win over England in what could be his final match against them should he, if selected, retire after the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia later this year.

"They're great occasions, largely because invariably England are one of the best sides in the world," said O'Driscoll.

"You have to bring your 'A' game. It's England in Dublin and that's an exciting prospect no matter how many times you've had it." - AFP

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