IT may be nothing more than a glorified friendly but Ireland’s match with England at Twickenham this weekend would be a good place for Andy Farrell’s men to start winning big again.
In response to a decimated autumn schedule due to Covid-19 disrupting the travel of the southern hemisphere’s nations, the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup was launched last weekend and this Saturday Ireland travel to south west London for their second match in Pool A.
With rugby’s dire financial state currently, this new tournament will go some way to boosting the sport’s struggling unions, including the IRFU, who received a £16.2 million Irish government bailout earlier this month.
With the lack of crowds, historical importance and a prize, it still remains to be seen how the bigger sides treat this tournament.
England’s head coach, Eddie Jones, for instance, has flirted with the idea of using it to blood youngsters through.
However, in any case, due to Ireland’s record over the last two years, you feel these matches should take on significant importance for Farrell’s team, with the lack of victories against top opposition in recent times quite glaring.
Since that magical year of 2018, when Ireland won the Grand Slam and beat New Zealand under Joe Schmidt, two third place finishes in the Six Nations and a disappointing World Cup campaign have followed.
Last month, in the finale of this year’s Six Nations, Ireland travelled to France needing to win by seven points to take the championship.
Yet the performance in Paris was akin to what has been seen against the bigger sides lately, with individual errors common in an Irish team that has begun to look like a soft touch.
While it must be stressed that, like Wales, who are finding it hard going since the exit of Warren Gatland, Ireland are still bedding in a new setup with Farrell, they must start producing the goods soon as captain, Johnny Sexton, knows full well.
"We are a new team with new coaches and focusing on this campaign," said Sexton, in the lead up to the Autumn Nations Cup.
"We had some average performances in the Six Nations like the first-half against England at Twickenham.
"But under Schmidt it took us a while to get consistency. We know we can get there as we achieved the Grand Slam in 2018. This past Six Nations is a start, not a drag over from the previous campaign."
The drop off in form not just from Sexton but the team as a whole is particularly evident in recent matches against England, where the last three encounters have resulted in damaging defeats for Ireland; 20-32 in Dublin in February 2019, 57-15 in the World Cup warm up at Twickenham in August last year and 24-12 earlier this year at the same venue.
If they are to beat England on Saturday, they must start fast and try to counter England’s power game, an approach which has been regularly deployed by Jones in previous matches.
England v Ireland is live on Channel 4 on Saturday, November 21 at 3pm