Declan Kidney believes his ability to name an unchanged team for the third time in this year’s Six Nations augurs well for Ireland’s hopes of clinching the title.
The starting XV that saw off both France and Italy with some style in Ireland’s first two matches has been retained for Saturday’s clash with England at Croke Park, and Kidney believes that is a hugely positive sign.
“There are lots of guys I’d love to play, good players who aren’t getting a chance to play. That’s the making of a good side,” he said.
“The players in the side know that if there’s any relaxation at all there are guys ready to take their place,” Kidney said.
“In terms of developing the squad work has been done on that behind the scenes. Talk about competition for places is not just lip service,” he said. “Pressure is being applied from beneath and if you’re worried about your place in the team then it spurs you on to play better.”
Kidney was able to stick with the same line-up after Paddy Wallace recovered from the eye injury which forced him off during a 38-9 win over Italy in Rome earlier this month.
The only change in the Irish 22 came on the bench where Kidney opted for Mick O’Driscoll as second row cover at the expense of Malcolm O’Kelly.
England are not expected to derail Irish ambitions of securing a Grand Slam but showed signs of improvement against Wales in their last outing and Kidney is expecting a tough battle.
“England’s performance in the last match against the Welsh was well up on the week before,” he said.
“I suppose that the other thing that concerns me is the quality of the people in the background. I’ve worked with Mike Ford before and my respect for Martin Johnson is huge,” he said.
“What’s also important is that they’ve had two free weeks in the run-up to this match,” Kidney said.
“If they made that much of an improvement in one week in between Italy and Wales, who knows what kind of improvements they’ve made in the past fortnight?” he asked.
Ireland have a tremendous record against England, winning four of their last five meetings since losing a Grand Slam decider in 2003.
The last of those victories two years ago was one of the great moments in Irish sport as England were humbled 43-13 in their first visit to Croke Park.
“England is always a big one. We always look forward to having them over,” said captain Brian O’Driscoll. “More often than not they’re one of the strongest teams in the world so you enjoy taking those teams on as often as possible.”
“The country always sits up and watches you play England regardless of the sport so it’s an occasion to be enjoyed and looked forward to,” O’Driscoll said.