THIS Saturday's clash between Ireland and England in Dublin may not be a title decider but it still feels hugely significant for Andy Farrell.
After defeats to France and Wales, and unsurprising victories over Italy and Scotland, the evaluation of Ireland‘s 2021 campaign in the Guinness Six Nations so far is once again par for the course.
And with Wales suddenly showing fine form under their relatively new coach, Wayne Pivac, there’s rightly a feeling that Farrell needs a big result soon to prove that Ireland are on the right track under his stewardship and that his promotion from the country’s defence coach was the right move.
Surely, there’s no better time for that to happen than against his native England on Saturday evening - the final match of this year’s Six Nations. Indeed, born in Wigan but of Irish ancestry, Farrell will come up against the country he represented as a rugby league and rugby union player and will face his son, Owen Farrell, England’s captain.
Intriguingly, both are under pressure to get a result on Saturday, with Andy requiring a victory to allay fears that Ireland, while in transition after Joe Schmidt, have flatlined in their development and Owen responding to calls for him to be replaced as England captain after recent poor performances.
Going on recent history, you have to say that Owen appears to be the one best placed to win the battle between father and son, however, with England perhaps being the team that Ireland have had the most pain against in recent years, having lost on the last four occasions including twice at Twickenham last year.
As has been well documented, in those matches Ireland often made too many mistakes after being overwhelmed by the English power game and the failure to start quickly turned out to be very costly.
Last year in the Six Nations, for instance, Ireland found themselves 17-0 down by half-time at Twickenham following the conceding of a try after just eight minutes and were unable to claw back the deficit.
The other three defeats against England in the last couple of years have followed a similar theme.
A comparable sluggish start on Saturday must be avoided by Farrell’s men if they are to give themselves a real chance of beating England, who arrive in Dublin perhaps disappointed by a poor Six Nations by their high standards.
After winning the Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup last year, England were favourites to win this year’s Championship, but the surprise defeat to Scotland at Twickenham and then Wales in Cardiff have put paid to that notion and have sparked criticism of the defensive tactics deployed by head coach Eddie Jones.
Their performance in the win against an impressive France last week, however, was possibly their best since the 2019 World Cup, which leaves this Saturday’s encounter nicely poised with Ireland also buoyed after a strong showing at Murrayfield on Sunday, March 14.