DYLAN HARTLEY is urging England to prove they remain a force on the global stage today despite successive defeats to Scotland and France.
Ireland visit Twickenham knowing they are one victory away from securing the third Grand Slam in their history a week after deposing Eddie Jones’s men as Six Nations champions.
The embarrassment of a fifth-place finish is the fate that awaits England if they endure a third loss and results elsewhere conspire against them, thereby registering their worst ever performance in the northern hemisphere tournament since the expansion to six teams.
Yet should they mute the St Patrick’s Day celebrations, they will replace Ireland in second place of the global rankings.
Hartley, restored as captain and hooker after missing the 22-16 defeat in Paris with a tight calf, refuses to view the slump as terminal decline but concedes that supporters deserve a rousing finish.
“Of course we are a good team. We are still a good team,” the Northampton front row said.
“Two losses don’t mean we are not a good team. It’s all part of our journey and to end the tournament on a good result for us will be reward for a lot of work that has gone into this campaign.
“The guys owe it to themselves first and foremost but also to our crowd and our general support. We’re excited and we want to finish the tournament on a good result.
“We’ve obviously had a bit of learning over the last few weeks but we are hungry, we are hungry to go out and perform, we’re hungry to get a result.
“It’s all growth for the team, every setback, every disappointment. We are pumped, we are hungry, we’ll certainly go out there and play.”
While England are in danger of unravelling, Wales coach Warren Gatland has cheekily suggested they could be in the midst of a six-match losing sequence given their looming tour to South Africa.
Jones has won all 14 Tests over which he has presided at the home of England rugby and the ground has not been stormed in the Six Nations since 2012.
“It’s a big game for both teams — one team going for the Grand Slam and we want to play well in front of our crowd of 82,000 people,” Jones said.
“This is a great opportunity to finish what has been a fantastic Six Nations. Ireland are worthy champions of the competition, but we are out there to prove that we are still a very, very good team. We will prove that on Saturday.”
Overshadowing the build-up to the 133rd meeting between rivals has been the emergence of offensive comments made by Jones in Japan last year.
Footage in which England’s head coach is seen referring to Ireland as the “scummy Irish” and Wales as a “little shit country” during a talk on leadership has caused a temporary storm, but Jones denies he has unwittingly supplied today’s opponents with their team talk.
“Having been in a position ourselves of going for the Grand Slam, I think the Grand Slam is enough motivation,” he said.
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