18 August 2023

Owen Farrell absence dominates build-up – Ireland v England talking points

18 August 2023

Ireland and England step up preparations for the World Cup when they clash in a warm-up fixture in Dublin.

The rivals are at very different stages of their development.

Here the PA news agency examines five talking points ahead of their 141st meeting on Saturday.

Absent Farrell takes centre stage

Both teams are at close to full strength yet for all the stars on parade at the Aviva Stadium, the spotlight shines on a notable absentee. Owen Farrell was due to lead England in their penultimate fixture before facing Argentina in a pivotal Pool D fixture but instead Steve Borthwick’s captain and talisman is preparing for his second appearance before rugby’s judiciary in a week. The outcry at the decision to rescind his red card against Wales has seen World Rugby lodge an appeal, extending the controversy into a second week and disrupting England’s preparations both for Ireland and the World Cup.

England under siege

Borthwick knew he was leaping into the deep end when he took over a side that had lost its way under Eddie Jones, but even the resilient and thick skinned Cumbrian must be reeling from the controversy that has erupted around Farrell, who he claims is the victim of “personal attacks” on his character. On the field England have yet to provide any meaningful evidence of progress under Borthwick, who is fighting multiple fires including a disciplinary implosion against Wales with the World Cup starting in three weeks’ time.

Ford’s chance to shine

Into the fly-half breach steps George Ford, who makes his first Test start since 2021. The Sale ringmaster was outstanding as a replacement against Wales last Saturday and with Farrell likely to miss the start of the World Cup if the appeal succeeds, he has the opportunity to step out of his captain’s shadow and direct an attack that has yet to take shape under Borthwick. Assisting England’s smartest player is a well balanced centre partnership of Manu Tuilagi and Joe Marchant in what could be the first choice backline.

On the comeback trail

Ollie Chessum will make his long-awaited return from the serious ankle injury sustained during the Six Nations when he steps off the bench in Dublin. The 22-year-old Leicester second row was England’s breakout star of the Championship, bringing athleticism and energy to the engine room. With the World Cup fast approaching his return is well timed for England, although Tom Curry’s ongoing absence with his own ankle issue remains a concern.

Andy Farrell’s top dogs

Ireland will concede their place at the top of the world rankings to New Zealand if they lose to England and could fall as low as fourth should other results go against them, but the prospect of that happening is remote. Andy Farrell’s Six Nations champions have won the last three Tests against their rivals and are poised to make an impact at the World Cup, even if they are positioned on the savage side of the draw. Connacht back row Cian Prendergast is the latest talent to roll off the green production line with Farrell describing the full debutant as a “warrior”, while Keith Earls is poised to win his 100th cap off the bench.

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