ENGLAND'S "ferocious" forward pack will provide the acid test for Ireland's revamped driving maul, according to Les Kiss.
Ireland's assistant coach admitted that both teams will have seriously considered digressing from their obvious tight driving game strengths for Saturday's RBS 6 Nations showdown at Twickenham.
John Plumtree, the Irish forwards coach, has whipped his side's maul into devastating shape under the ever-watchful eye of meticulous head coach Joe Schmidt.
England's driving play has similarly blossomed under Graham Rowntree, with Kiss expecting the two power games to collide in spectacular fashion in west London this weekend. While Kiss admits there will be thoughts in both camps of bluffs and double bluffs in favour of abandoning the maul for wide play, he expects that at some stage both teams will doubtless launch their driving tactics.
"There is a chance both teams might think 'let's attack it a bit differently', then fake to the maul and go elsewhere," said Kiss. "Both teams are probably thinking about that as a strategy, but there is a part of this game, particularly at Twickenham, where I know England would like to draw a line in the sand in that area."
"We certainly know that we have a lot more improvement in the maul, but we have worked hard to make it a real strength," added Kiss. "And if there's a game where we'll find out if it is a strength it's this one. So there may be some variation from it from both teams, but I do think they are going to lock horns at some stage.
"And it's going to be a true forward battle that possibly determines what else happens around the field. We're set for that, and I'm pretty sure, by the way, that they're set for it as well."
David Wilson has replaced Dan Cole at tighthead prop, the Bath front-rower still recovering from calf trouble. England freely admit Wilson will not last the course, with Sale's international-level rookie Henry Thomas primed for action from the bench. But Kiss warned Ireland not to expect to benefit from England's injury issues as a matter of course.
"Without a doubt losing Dan Cole is a blow but Wilson has a lot of international experience, and he scrummed well last week for Bath against Exeter," said Kiss. "The danger for us is to take our eye off the ball there, and think that it will come easy to us - it won't. I don't think any part of the game will come easy to us.
"We expect the typical ferocious onslaught from an English forward pack and the fact that they have had some changes there is something we're not taking our eye off.
"If we just get locked in the scrum and the fact that Dan Cole's not there then we're not doing our job properly. There are other areas of the game where the English forward pack can hurt you and Dave Wilson can hurt you, we know that: we've seen it.
"We've done the analysis on him and we're very aware that we've got to be prepared ourselves in that area."
Courtney Lawes is to face Ireland's indomitable Paul O'Connell for the second time in the Test arena knowing the grizzled Ireland veteran will offer the ultimate gauge of the progress he has made this season.
One of a string of eagerly awaited duels will see Lawes and O'Connell collide in a battle between young pretender and old master. Lawes, with his injury problems behind him, has become an increasingly influential figure for England, his muscular presence in the loose combined with a growing leadership role.
Ranged against the 24-year-old and his growing reputation is O'Connell, a decorated warrior of three British and Irish Lions tours and among the game's great locks.
"Paul obviously brings a great deal of physicality but, over and above that, his leadership and the fact he's so experienced make him very influential," Lawes said. "He's a leader for Ireland and he's very much a talisman for them, so he'll be looking to put pressure on us at the line-out and also around the park.
"Ireland have been very good at rolling mauls during the last couple of games, so we've been even more carefully on that this week."
England v Ireland (Twickenham, today, 4pm)
ENGLAND M Brown (Harlequins); J Nowell (Exeter), L Burrell (Northampton), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester), J May (Gloucester); O Farrell (Saracens), D Care (Harlequins); J Marler (Harlequins), D Hartley (Northampton), D Wilson (Bath), J Launchbury (Wasps), C Lawes (Northampton), T Wood (Northampton), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), B Vunipola (Saracens). Substitutes T Youngs (Leicester), M Vunipola (Saracens), H Thomas (Sale Sharks), D Attwood (Bath), B Morgan (Gloucester), L Dickson (Northampton), G Ford (Bath), A Goode (Saracens)
IRELAND R Kearney (Leinster); A Trimble (Ulster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster), G D'Arcy (Leinster), D Kearney (Leinster); J Sexton (Racing Metro), C Murray (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster), D Toner (Leinster), P O'Connell (Munster, capt), P O'Mahony (Munster), C Henry (Ulster), J Heaslip (Leinster) Substitutes S Cronin (Leinster), J McGrath (Leinster), M Moore (Leinster), I Henderson (Ulster), J Murphy (Leinster), I Boss (Leinster), P Jackson (Ulster), F McFadden (Leinster).
Referee C Joubert (South Africa) Assistant referees R Poite (France) & L Hodges (Wales)