Ireland and England meet in one last World Cup warm-up match at Dublin's Lansdowne Road on Saturday with both sides eager for victory and quietly keen to come through the clash unscathed.
This will be the final competitive match for the old rivals before they head to New Zealand for the World Cup and they each have enough injury issues already without adding to their respective casualty lists.
Yet England manager Martin Johnson remains adamant this is an ideal fixture for his side, giving the Six Nations champions a chance to atone for a 24-8 Dublin defeat that cost them a Grand Slam five months ago against an Ireland side that has since lost its first three World Cup warm-up matches.
"They will be desperate for a win but that is good," said Johnson, England's 2003 World Cup winning captain.
"We don't want them easing into it," added Johnson, bidding to lead England to a third successive World Cup final following their loss in the climax of the last edition to South Africa in Paris four years ago.
"We want to play as intense as we can play, against as good an opposition as we can get.
"They [Ireland] have probably been the best team in Europe consistently in the last four or five years. That is why we chose the game."
England go into the game without squad captain Lewis Moody and first-choice scrumhalf Ben Youngs, both ruled out with knee injuries.
Johnson has gone 'back to the future' by selecting Jonny Wilkinson, the man whose drop-goal secured victory in the final against Australia eight years ago, as his first-choice flyhalf in place of Toby Flood.
Finding a midfield playmaker has been a thorny issue for England ever since the retirement of World Cup-winning centre Will Greenwood and Johnson will field his 13th different centre combination in 35 Tests in charge this weekend when he pairs veteran Mike Tindall with Leicester dynamo Manu Tuilagi.
"I don't see it as something new," said Johnson. "It is going to be exciting. This is a good chance to get Manu on the field. We think he deserves a chance to start another Test match."
Johnson has made six changes in all from the team beaten 19-9 last time out by Wales, a match where England dominated possession yet couldn't score a try, including the return of powerhouse prop Andrew Sheridan, sidelined for much of the English season with a shoulder problem.
Ireland come into his match on the back of a loss to Scotland and away and home defeats by France.
They will be without star centre and captain Brian O'Driscoll (shoulder) and talented back row Sean O'Brien (knee), who both suffered injuries in last weekend's 26-22 reverse against the French.
"Brian's had injuries like this before," said Ireland coach Declan Kidney, who has chosen Keith Earls at outside centre.
"There's a World Cup coming after this and it's more important that he's ready for that than this game."
As for O'Brien, Kidney added: "Sean has a bit of a tear on one of the ligaments, but he has been training."
The Ireland coach is hoping the time his squad has spent together will at last pay dividends against England.
"I'm disappointed we've lost the last three matches but I know we can get ourselves right," said Kidney.
"We decided to have four warm-up internationals because in the past it's taken us a while to get into our stride.
"I believe we'll get into our stride now, but there are a few bits of the jigsaw that must come together and that's what we're trying to achieve."
Ireland start their World Cup campaign against the United States while England face Argentina, third in 2007, in a potentially tricky opener.
But Johnson's focus is firmly fixed on Saturday.
"Let's not worry about the World Cup," said Johnson. "Let's play this game. That is what rugby is about.
"This is a game that gets the blood flowing. Let's go out there and give it a good crack."
Players to watch:
For Ireland: In the absence of the great Brian O'Driscoll, the spotlight will automatically shift to Keith Earls, who many see as the future of the Irish midfield. You also know that Ronan O'Gara will have an influence on the game - positive or negative. However, the loose trio of Jamie Heaslip, David Wallace and Stephen Ferris will be key to Ireland's success.
For England: The inclusion of young Manu Tuilagi in the England midfield will attract a lot of attention, as this remains one of Manager Martin Johnson's biggest headaches. This is his opportunity to take or waste. Then, you never look much further than veteran flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson, who will soon be looking to add a second World Cup-winner's medal to his collection.
Head to head: There are some great contests all over the park, but the most interesting will be in the midfield - Keith Earls (Ireland) against Manu Tuilagi (England) - two players keen to secure regular starting places. And what more do you want than the battle of the veteran flyhalves - Ronan O'Gara (Ireland) against Jonny Wilkinson (England) ... that should be a cracker.
2011: Ireland won 24-8, Dublin
2010: Ireland won 20-16, London
2009: Ireland won 14-13, Dublin
2008: England won 33-10, London
2007: Ireland won 43-13, Dublin
2006: Ireland won 28-24, London
2005: Ireland won 19-13, Dublin
2004: Ireland won 19-13, London
2003: England won 42-6, Dublin
2002: England won 45-11, London
Prediction: History tells you that Ireland have no problem in dealing with England. In fact the Irish may well be the English's biggest bogey team. These are World Cup warm-up matches, so it may also be the reason why the English have not looked the same team that won the Six Nations this year. And while the Irish have not won any of their warm-up matches either, there is no doubt they will be up for this one. It will be a close call and the Irish will push the English all the way, before England sneak a late winner - by less than 10 points.
Ireland: 15 Geordan Murphy, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 David Wallace, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Paul O'Connell (captain), 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Jerry Flannery, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: Rory Best, Tom Court, Donnacha Ryan, Denis Leamy, Conor Murray, Jonathan Sexton, Fergus McFadden.
England: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Mike Tindall (captain), 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Nick Easter, 7 James Haskell, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Steve Thompson, 1 Andrew Sheridan.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 Matt Stevens, 18 Simon Shaw, 19 Tom Wood, 20 Joe Simpson, 21 Toby Flood, 22 Delon Armitage.
Date: Saturday, August 28
Venue: Lansdowne Road, Dublin
Kick-off: 14.30 (13.30 GMT)
Expected weather: Light showers during the day, clearing up towards the evening. High 18°C, low 10°C
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Tim Hayes (Wales)
TMO: Giulio De Santis (Italy)
AFP & rugby365.com
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