|Venue: Welford Road, Leicester Date: Sunday, 24 April Kick-off: 12:00 BST|
|Coverage: Watch on BBC Two; listen on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra; live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.|
It is one of sport’s most well-worn cliches, but circumstances dictate England and Ireland can only focus on themselves when they meet in the Women’s Six Nations on Sunday.
The result is in little doubt. If England’s current dominance of the world game were not enough to guarantee victory at Welford Road, the fact Ireland are missing several key players will certainly help.
Added to the Irish absences – players are away training with the sevens side – England head coach Simon Middleton has chosen round four to field his strongest side.
Once again, it comes down to professionalism. The Red Roses are fully professional with separate XV-a-side and sevens programs, funding that has helped them win three successive Six Nations titles and their past 21 matches.
Ireland, who received an apology from their union for its failures in the women’s game before the tournament, get paid per day and priorities shift between the two formats.
It means the spectators in Leicester are likely to witness a perfect storm.
in front of a record crowd of more than 15,000both sides will be turning inwards.
England must determine their strongest XV before a likely decider against France in the final round and Ireland have the chance to shape their future stars.
Players ‘waiting in wings’ for starting spots
With the scoreboard unlikely to trouble England, pressure will come from within.
Captain Sarah Hunter says the side has the greatest strength in depth she has ever seen in her 15 years as a Red Rose.
Competition for starting places is sky-high, both for the Six Nations finale and October’s World Cup.
If anyone fails against Ireland, head coach Simon Middleton says “there are players waiting in the wings” who could step in against France.
For anyone unsure, he added: “These players have got to play well.”
Star center Emily Scarratt is likely to step up to that challenge as she earns her 100th cap in her hometown.
Further back, Middleton continues his full-back experiments with center and fly-half Helena Rowland the latest to take on the 15 shirt after Abby Dow broke her leg playing against Wales.
Versatile forward Poppy Cleall finds herself on the bench as world player of the year Zoe Aldcroft returns from injury at lock and Middleton says flanker Alex Matthews “has become a player you can’t leave out of the side.”
Irish absences ‘a real shame’
While England have too many players to choose from, Ireland do not have enough.
The visitors are without five of their starting backline, with seven players in total away preparing for a sevens event in Canada.
Stacey Flood, Lucy Mulhall, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, Eve Higgins and Beibhinn Parsons have left a gaping hole in the backline, with Anna McGann and Brittany Hogan also absent.
To make matters worse, lock Sam Monaghan – Ireland’s standout player of the tournament so far – has a calf injury and back row Aoife Wafer is unavailable too.
Middleton says it is “a real shame” to see Ireland so depleted and former captain Ciara Griffin says the side can only focus on “mini-wins” at key areas like the breakdown or set-piece.
The absences do at least give full-back Molly Scuffil-McCabe the chance to make her debut, while Niamh Byrne is set to earn her first cap off the bench.
Head coach Greg McWilliams is choosing to find positives in the situation, saying: “This is an exciting opportunity for players who are desperate for the chance to showcase their talent on the biggest stage.”
England to ‘put on a show’
A competitive edge may be missing, but the crowd is sure to be treated to a ton of tries.
England have averaged more than 10 per game in the tournament so far, conceding just two.
The Red Roses have been particularly devastating in the final 20 minutes, helping them win all three games for more than 50 points.
Head coach Middleton took time to pay respect to the opposition, saying “they’ll be ultra-competitive”, before looking within once more.
“Ultimately it’s about just keeping our eyes on us,” he added.
“Our responsibility is to perform as well as we can and make sure we put a show on in front of a fantastic crowd.”
England: rowland; Thompson, Scarratt, Aitchison, Breach; Harrison, Infante; Cornborough, Davies, Bern, Aldcroft, Ward, Matthews, Packer, Hunter (capt.).
Replacements: Cokayne, Botterman, Muir, Galligan, Cleall, Hunt, Reed, Kildunne.
Irish: Scuffil-McCabe; Doyle, Naoupu, Breen, Considine; Cronin, Dane; Djougang, Jones, Haney; Fryday (Capt.), McDermott; Wall, McMahon, O’Connor.
Replacements: Hooban, Pearse, O’Dwyer, Moore, Og O’Leary, Reilly, Claffey, Byrne.
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