Owen Farrell has warned Ireland they target him at their peril as England attempt to ignite their pursuit of the Six Nations title by recording a first victory in Dublin for six years.
Farrell’s temperament has been identified as a weakness by Irish Grand Slam winner Peter Stringer, who claimed the champions would deliberately attempt to unsettle his former Saracens half-back partner knowing he is a “hothead”.
Stringer could cite a string of recent events as evidence – Farrell escaped punishment for illegal tackles against South Africa and Australia last autumn, while in December and January he received warnings from referees for back chat and overly-aggressive communication.
England’s captain, however, insists the picture being painted of him is inaccurate.
“It’s up to Peter what he says. I don’t know how long ago it is that I played with him – it seems like a long time ago,” Farrell said.
“I don’t know if he thinks I’ve not changed. He’s entitled to his opinion. I’m competitive. I’ll look to do my job on the field and that’s all that matters.
“Everyone has changed, haven’t they? Everyone tries to get better, everyone tries to grow. All I’m trying to do is be the best I can be.
“I can’t remember that person (the hot head) and I don’t need to. I’m happy with how I am and the way things are going.”
England have been strengthened by the return from injury of their most powerful ball-carriers Mako and Billy Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi, the trio included in the same starting XV for the first time.
Tuilagi is making his first Six Nations start in six years in the unaccustomed position of inside centre after Ben Te’o was ruled out by a side strain, while Elliot Daly will be able to prove his future lies at full-back when he faces the aerial barrage directed by Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton.
On the left wing is Jack Nowell, who Eddie Jones has selected for the Dublin showdown due to his “street fighter” qualities.
Farrell was part of the last England team to prevail at the Aviva Stadium in 2013 and knows what is coming.
“It’s a passionate place with a passionate crowd and they’re a passionate team,” the fly-half said.
“You’ve seen that from big Munster nights and big Leinster nights in Dublin. You see how tough those places are to go.
“That probably says you need to get your start right, that you stick in the fight as well as take it to them.
“It’s always a balance in terms of being clear-headed but being aggressive and as combative as you need to be in these big games. We’ve just got to play the game.
“They’re where they are in the world rankings at the minute and rightly so. We’re looking to get up there.”
Jonny May insists England plan to “fire some shots” against Joe Schmidt’s men.
“We want to come and fire some shots. We know Ireland and we know their threats, but it’s really a case of focusing on what we’re going to do,” May said.
“We’ve been practising our game plan for 10 days and we know what we want to do. Do we want to have a go at them and score some points? Of course we do.”
Wales will head to the Cote d’Azur sunshine on Saturday as Five and Six Nations record-breakers.
Wales head coach Warren Gatland claimed his team had “forgotten how to lose” after they staged an epic Six Nations fightback that stunned France 24-19 in Paris.
Wales trailed by 16 points at half-time but responded magnificently, posting a 10th successive win and equalling their longest undefeated run since 1999.
It eclipsed the previous best comeback in Five or Six Nations history after France recovered a 15-0 deficit after 37 minutes to defeat Ireland 26-21 in 1989.
And Gatland’s squad now travel to Nice, where they will be based before leaving for Rome next Thursday and a Six Nations appointment with Italy.
Wales’ victory – a seventh over France from the last eight starts – underlines their credentials as strong title contenders this season.
Tries by scrum-half Tomos Williams and wing George North, who capitalised on opposite number Yoann Huget’s defensive howler, plus two Gareth Anscombe conversions and a Dan Biggar penalty edged Wales ahead following a 15-minute purple patch.
And after France went back in front through a Camille Lopez penalty, North claimed his second try – a stunning 60-metre interception effort that Biggar converted – to see Wales home.
“For me, the big difference between the two teams is that we’ve become a side that has probably forgotten how to lose and can dig deep like that,” Gatland said.
“On the other hand, they (France) are probably a team searching for some confidence, having not had a great run in the last seven or eight matches.”
Wales, unbeaten since losing to Ireland in last season’s Six Nations, were up against it as Les Bleus dominated the opening 40 minutes and cruised clear through touchdowns by Louis Picamoles and Huget, while Lopez booted a penalty and a drop-goal.
Gatland added: “We know that we get better the more time we have together.
“To win this tournament, you need a bit of luck. We look back on our victories and know that sometimes you have the bounce of the ball.
“It’s tough in the Six Nations when you come up against one of the big teams. France in Paris is a real challenge, and if you can win the first game then you have a good chance of winning the tournament.”
Attention will now turn to the Italy clash, with two of Wales’ three games after that being at home – against title rivals England and Ireland.
Gatland added: “The whole thing for the last two years has been about creating depth. We’re trying to replicate what is going to happen later this year (at the World Cup).
“We would like other players to get an opportunity next week. Some might start, and some might be on the bench.”
There’ll be a familiar surname on the team sheet for Scottish rugby fans when their side take to the Murrayfield pitch against Italy as on Saturday night – perhaps the most famous surname in Scottish rugby history.
Adam Hastings – son of Dark Blues great Gavin – has been selected in Gregor Townsend’s 2019 Six Nations squad and will likely win his fifth cap from the bench against the Azzurri.
The 22-year-old donned the famous jersey for the first time against Canada last summer. It is a jersey his father, as well as his uncle Scott, wore with distinction.
Gavin, 57, won 61 caps for Scotland, scoring 667 points (he is 18th on the all-time international rugby points scorers’ list), as well as featuring for the British & Irish Lions six times.
Younger brother Scott, 54, played 64 times for his country and twice for the Lions. And while Hastings junior will have to bide his time with Finn Russell ahead of him as Scotland’s first-choice fly-half, his uncle insists the Glasgow Warriors pivot is carving his own path in the famous family.
“He’s an exciting player but one willing to learn and understand you only get your rewards from hard work,” said the younger Hastings brother, speaking to Sport360 during December’s Dubai Rugby Sevens in his ambassadorial role with Capgemini.
“That ethic has taken him into the Scotland squad, and hopefully will continue for years to come.
“Both Gav and I are really proud of the way he’s handled himself in his professional career so far both in Bath and Glasgow. From what I’ve learned from Gregor Townsend and Dave Rennie (Glasgow coach) he’s willing to learn and listen and have an impact in the way his teams prepare.
“He revels in the atmosphere and he’s creating his own destiny. And while his uncle and father have done great things in the game he’s setting himself up for a great future in the game too.
“He’s 22, he’s going to make mistakes as I and Gavin did. But you learn and you get confidence from winning. For Scotland as a rugby nation, that extra effort has to be put in to get that respect, because it’s hard against nations so rich in talent and coached well like Ireland, England and Wales.
“He has Finn Russell to compete with. They will both have their chances but it’s great he’s in the equation. He’s still only 22. I was capped at 21. Hopefully he’ll do well.”