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Dashing D'Arcy

If you were looking for a good belly laugh ahead of today's Ireland v England clash at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, you could do worse than check out the YouTube clip in which comedian Risteard Cooper lampoons the taciturn manner of Ireland coach Declan Kidney in a spoof interview with an excitable TV reporter.

Gordon D'Arcy loves playing against England   Photograph: Getty
Gordon D'Arcy loves playing against England Photograph: Getty

Interviewer: "Surely this is the biggest one for you, and for the Irish, beating the old enemy on home turf?"

Cooper/Kidney: "Well I suppose in some ways it is and in some ways it isn't."

Interviewer: "In what ways is it?"

Cooper/Kidney: "Some ways."

Interviewer: "There's a lot of hype leading up to the game. How do you expect England to play?"

Cooper/Kidney: "Well I'd expect them to attack when they have the ball and defend when they don't have the ball."

Interviewer: "And what about the Irish?"

Cooper/Kidney: "I'd expect us to do something similar."

Cooper captures Kidney's monotone delivery perfectly, but the exquisite irony of the sketch is that it probably provides as much insight into today's match as anything offered in acres of newsprint or hours of broadcast coverage that the fixture has attracted over the past few days.

Even the bookmakers have struggled to shed light on the affair. Ladbrokes were offering both sides at 10/11 two days ago, as good an indication as any of how close the contest could be. You might back England on the basis they were the more impressive of the two sides on the Championship's opening weekend, but you would just as easily favour Ireland on the basis of home advantage.

Already, it seems that the match will decide the destination of the Six Nations title. And if England show they can take their Twickenham form on the road then a Grand Slam will be more than likely as well. Victory for Stuart Lancaster's side would be a thunderous statement of possibility.

Ten years ago, England's World Cup hopes still looked shaky when they pitched up in Dublin to take on an Ireland side who seemed to be steaming towards a Grand Slam. They left with the championship trophy, and with a nation stunned by their imperious performance and their 42-6 demolition of Ireland. Few who were there that day were greatly surprised when Martin Johnson picked up the World Cup in Sydney a few months later.

And as close as the two sides seem on paper, a repeat of that performance is well within the realm of possibility. Ireland razzle-dazzled their way to a 30-22 win against Wales in the Millennium Stadium eight days ago, but they gave themselves a serious fright along the way, picking up two yellow cards as they allowed Wales back into the game by conceding 19 unanswered points.

Ireland also look to have a potentially critical weakness at tighthead, where Mike Ross is only barely international class and the bench cover is even less impressive. In every sense, they could cave in. But if they can keep their dignity in the scrum then they may yet damage England in other areas.

Slap in the middle, in fact, where the seemingly ageless and certainly peerless Brian O'Driscoll will line up alongside Gordon D'Arcy for the 50th time in a Test match. Today is D'Arcy's 33rd birthday, giving the Irish midfield a combined age of 67. Anyone remember the doomsayers who insisted rugby players would peg out in their mid 20s in the professional era?

And England should be warned that D'Arcy is up for this one. "There is no small game in a Six Nations," he said, "but there probably is a little bit more in this than in the other ones.

"The Welsh had beaten us the last three times in a row and that gave an extra little bit of spice, but this week is probably just another little bit on from that. We love playing against England and they love playing against us. That usually brings out the best in both teams. You'd be hard pushed to find a poor Ireland-England game in the last 10 years."

Or a poor D'Arcy performance in one. He has faced up to England in the Six Nations six times and has lost only once. Injuries have disrupted his career, but there is something in his partnership with O'Driscoll that seems to befuddle English sides, never more comprehensively than when Ireland derailed England's Grand Slam plans with a 24-8 victory in Dublin two years ago.

This may be a last hurrah for the Irish centre partnership. It could also be a passing of the baton, the defining game as England establish themselves as the team of the next few years.

Even D'Arcy believes there could be something happening there. "You look at traditional England teams with big heavy packs that like to be physically confrontational," he said. "Mauling, hitting rucks and then traditionally big backs that like to do the same. But they have got a few more strings to their bow. Their back three are pretty strong. Their half-backs are influential in very different ways, so their armoury is a lot more varied. That brings its own challenges. When you are playing England you always want to be on song."

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