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Six Nations: Jeremy Guscott on Ireland v England

Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin Date: Saturday, 19 March Kick-off: 1700 GMT
Coverage: Watch live on BBC One from 1400, and on the Red Button and online; listen on BBC Radio 5 live; text commentary online and on mobiles

Clockwise from bottom left: Ireland second row Paul O'Connell, Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll, England players Ben Youngs, Matt Banahan, Chris Ashton and Ben Foden
Clockwise from bottom left: Will the old heads of Ireland's O'Connell and O'Driscoll help end the Grand Slam dream of England tyros Youngs, Banahan, Ashton and Foden?

Jeremy Guscott
By Jeremy Guscott
Former England and Lions centre

Recent history may be against England when they face Ireland for the Grand Slam on Saturday, but that won't bother Martin Johnson's young guns.

Only five of them faced the Irish last year and the fact that England have lost six of their last seven matches against Ireland is irrelevant - players don't study history, trust me.

What will have a much bigger bearing on whether England secure a first Grand Slam since 2003 will be whether their inexperience means they freeze under the pressure.

However, that lack of experience could work the other way. The youngsters have no sense of history weighing down on them, so they could treat it as just another game and go out and play with freedom.

It's good that we're finally here, from an English perspective, because it's eight years since their last Grand Slam, during which time France, Wales and Ireland have all won Slams.

It is hard to analyse how the likes of Ben Youngs, Chris Ashton, Ben Foden, Alex Corbisiero, Matt Banahan and Tom Wood will cope with the occasion.

Amazingly 10 of the XV are 25 or under - and they've not really been in this position during their careers with club or country.

Martin Johnson leads England to a Grand Slam in 2003

England finally complete Grand Slam in 2003 after three near misses

Winning your first Grand Slam is hard. The 2003 squad butchered three Grand Slam opportunities before smashing in the doors at the old Lansdowne Road, when they so comprehensively beat Ireland.

Although Ireland is struggling economically, the whole of Dublin will be buzzing because it was St Patrick's Day on Thursday and the Cheltenham Festival has been a huge success for the Irish.

They'll all be flooding back to watch their team hopefully put one over the English and the Aviva Stadium will be rocking, which means England's focus has to be perfect.

Watching this England side you can sense a tightness building up in their past couple of performances.

They opened their Six Nations account against Wales with an efficient, calculating performance, which was very mature.

Against Italy the reins were loosened and Ashton cut loose, and they did the job against France in the following game, although it wasn't as fluid a performance as we'd seen in the previous two games.

However, in the Calcutta Cup match Scotland did a bit of a number on them, causing big problems at the breakdown.

England's Calcutta Cup-winning team

Highlights - England 22-16 Scotland

What frustrated me about England on Sunday was that they didn't seem to have an answer to the questions Scotland posed.

It wasn't a horrendous performance, but an efficient side would have put away the opportunities they created and won more comfortably.

The increasing tension within the squad won't have been helped by the loss of captain Mike Tindall to an ankle injury.

Some people have questioned his presence in the side but his absence on Saturday could show just what his value is to the team.

Tindall is a leader, he is experienced, and a lot of players look towards him when they're searching for answers.

Sometimes all it takes is a look, you see someone like Tindall in your side, a guy who's been through virtually everything you can in rugby, and think 'I'm in good hands'.

Just a word here and there from him during the week and the game can put players at ease, and that's where he'll be missed.

Tindall has a tendency to come rushing out of the line in defence and I have a feeling his replacement, Banahan, will do the same. It is an area Ireland might be able to exploit.

Ireland have a move where fly-half Jonathan Sexton runs around Brian O'Driscoll to take the return pass on the loop and free the runners out wide.


Because it's so well known you might see them change it, with the blind-side winger coming in, or O'Driscoll dummying and taking it on himself.

It could be a disastrous move though, because if Sexton comes on the run-around and Banahan reads it, he will swat him like a fly.

We saw Banahan's power in the last game when he ran at Kelly Brown and took him out, but although it's great having these players in the side they've got to be used - there's no point in having an asset and leaving it to rust.

In my view Tindall and centre partner Shontayne Hape have been underused in attack and when you've got someone like Banahan you need to give him the ball.

Everyone knows he's a unit but it's not until you see him in the flesh you get a true idea of just how big he is.

When we were doing the pre-match stuff on the corner of the pitch last Sunday Jonathan Davies looked at Banahan warming up and said there was no way physically he could high tackle him because he would not be able to reach.

The Bath back is imposing but there's no way he's going to intimidate O'Driscoll or Gordon D'Arcy because they've been round the block.

Having said that, even O'Driscoll's going to look at Banahan and think 'if I have to tackle him five times when he's running at full tilt, I'm going to be sore tomorrow'.

Ireland coach Declan Kidney has decided to turn once again to Sexton, who was his fly-half at the start of the championship.

Wales celebrate victory in Cardiff

Highlights - Wales 19-13 Ireland

Because of their early struggles he reverted to type and went back to Ronan O'Gara, but it appears he has decided Sexton - who offers more of a running option than O'Gara - is his man.

England have kept changes to a minimum with Tom Wood retaining his place in the starting XV ahead of the fit-again Tom Croft.

I expected Croft to come back into the team as he has been first choice but Wood deserves his place and England will be glad to have the dynamism of Croft waiting on the bench.

From 2003 until last summer England were a side I didn't expect to win too many games but that's all changed.

They've beaten Australia home and away, they beat France last time out, they won away in Wales - this side has different personnel and a different mentality to the England team that played Ireland in the past seven games.

This is a Grand Slam game and as such it ranks up there with Lions tours and knock-out games in World Cups, there is no getting away from the enormity of the situation in which England find themselves.

However, you cannot forget that the side which won the 2003 Grand Slam and went on to win the World Cup lost three Grand Slam matches before they won their first Slam, so if England lose on Saturday, this side should not be written off.

If they can rediscover the efficiency of the Wales game and the freedom of the Italian game they will have an incredibly good chance of winning the Grand Slam.

If they play like they did against France and, particularly, Scotland they will find it incredibly hard.

Jeremy Guscott was talking to BBC Sport's James Standley.

You can follow Jerry on Twitter at

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see also
England pick Banahan for Dublin
17 Mar 11 |  English
Trimble and Sexton in Irish team
16 Mar 11 |  Irish
Ireland 24-8 England
19 Mar 11 |  Rugby Union
Grand Slam talk allowed - Johnson
14 Mar 11 |  Rugby Union
England 22-16 Scotland
13 Mar 11 |  Rugby Union
Wales 19-13 Ireland
12 Mar 11 |  Rugby Union
Six Nations on the BBC
05 Feb 09 |  Rugby Union

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