Mark Aston is gearing up for the toughest test of his fledgling career as an international coach.
His Ireland team are massive underdogs as they face England in a game that will decide their fate in the Rugby League World Cup. The drama will be played out before a sell-out crowd at Huddersfield tomorrow (2.30pm).
The Sheffield Eagles boss knows defeat will end Ireland’s hopes of making the knockout stages.
Both teams lost their opening group games and England need a morale-booster after defeat to favourites Australia.
“It’s a tough one playing England but we won’t be phased,” said Aston. “All the pressure is on England. We know it’ll be physical but we’ve lads in the squad who can meet the challenge. Beating England is the dream. This is what international rugby is about.”
Ireland have a short turnaround with only five days to prepare following the 32-14 loss to Fiji.
Huddersfield fullback Scott Grix is out of the 19-man squad with a leg injury. Canberra prop forward Brett White has been cleared to play after being cautioned for a careless high tackle in the first game.
“There are a few battered and bruised but we’re better for the Fiji game,” said Aston. “The spirit in the squad is great.”
England will be without the Sydney Roosters and former Bradford forward Sam Burgess suspended for one match for a high tackle in the Australia game. Wigan’s Sean O’Loughlin is set to come in.England centre Kallum Watkins believes the team spirit fostered by a touring camp mentality will give his side every chance of going on to win the World Cup. Although England are the co-hosts with Wales, players are spending very little time at home.
Since returning from training camp in South Africa, Steve McNamara’s squad have been largely ensconced at Loughborough University.
“All the players are making sacrifices,” Watkins said. “Being away from your family all week. That’s the commitment you have to have when you are trying to win the World Cup and everyone has bought into this pretty well. Our team spirit will help us on the way.”
Ireland 19-man squad for the England game: Dave Allen, Luke Ambler, Bob Beswick, Damien Blanch, Danny Bridge, Ben Currie, Liam Finn, Simon Finnigan, Kurt Haggerty, James Hasson, Rory Kostjasyn, Stuart Littler, Tyrone McCarthy, James Mendeika, Anthony Mullally, Apirana Pewhairangi, Pat Richards,Joshua Toole, Brett White.
England squad: Carl Ablett, Tom Briscoe, George Burgess, Thomas Burgess, Rob Burrow, Rangi Chase, Leroy Cudjoe, Liam Farrell, Brett Ferres, James Graham, Ryan Hall, Chris Hill, Sean O’Loughlin, James Roby, Kevin Sinfield, Sam Tomkins, Kallum Watkins, Ben Westwood, Gareth Widdop.