The England captain, Owen Farrell, has made clear his intention to deny his father, Andy, a Six Nations grand slam with Ireland in Dublin on Saturday.
The hosts are ranked No 1 in the world and stand on the verge of a fourth clean sweep in their history, having last achieved the feat in 2018.
Few give England hope of denying Ireland at the Aviva Stadium – Steve Borthwick’s side are fourth in the table after losing to Scotland in the opening game and being torn apart by France in record fashion at Twickenham last Saturday. Victories against Italy and Wales came in between.
But Farrell, who returns to the starting XV after the traumatic defeat by Les Bleus, is in bullish mood.
“We’re looking forward to a big Test match,” said the fly-half. “Ireland are going really well at the minute, they’re going for a grand slam, which is a massive occasion for them. We’re hurting a bit from last week, and looking to take a step forward … Everybody, especially from the outside, is down about where we’re at. But we’ve no doubt we’re better than that.”
Asked if he plans to send a message to his father before the match in light of what he is close to achieving, Farrell said: “We’ll see what happens in the game first, won’t we? They’re top of world rugby at the minute and that normally doesn’t lie. The team’s been doing very well. We’ll play the game first, and we’ll see where we’re at.”
Farrell insisted it is “not weird” to be preparing for a high-pressure, high-stakes international match against a side coached by his father, but admitted it is more difficult for other members of the family.
“Especially my mum [Colleen],” he said. “She says she doesn’t know what she wants to happen. It’s probably a bit tough for her. Well, I know it is. But in terms of us, we’re just doing our job. He’s not out there on the field. It’s not direct competition.”
Meanwhile Ireland’s attack coach Mike Catt, has insisted the hosts are “massively respectful’ of England’s ability and expect a “tough, tough Test match”, despite the very obvious struggles of Borthwick’s players against France.
“You look at that backline, they’ve played in some big games together,” said Catt, a former England player and coach. “They’ve got a couple of young guys in there, but ultimately Freddie Steward is as solid as a rock. [Anthony] Watson has been around for ages. Manu [Tuilagi], Sladey [Henry Slade] and Owen [Farrell] have done some proper damage to a lot of teams.
“They’ve got some proper X-factor players. [Henry] Arundell is one of those players that we haven’t seen a massive amount of but if he gets the ball he can cause absolute chaos.”
Arundell, usually a full-back for London Irish, is set to make his first Test start on the wing having scored two international tries in six appearances. Farrell, who brushed off concerns about his fitness, wants England’s players to get the ball into the 20-year-old’s hands as often as possible. “It seems like every time he touches the ball people expect him to do something good,” he said. “He doesn’t normally disappoint. We’re looking forward to trying to get him into the game.”
With Johnny Sexton poised to play his final Six Nations match for Ireland, Farrell also paid tribute to the 37-year-old No 10: “He is probably going to be the top points-scorer in the Six Nations, which is a massive achievement. The longevity he has had, the drive I’ve seen first-hand … I know he has not finished, but he has had a phenomenal career so far. He has done it all. I have a massive amount of respect for that.”