Big day for Irish rugby with Six Nations game against England and derby between Ulster and Leinster

Ireland's Jonathan Sexton (right) celebrates after Garry Ringrose scores a try during the Six Nations match at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland. Picture date: Saturday February 5, 2022.
Johnny Sexton will captain Ireland at Twickenham this afternoon, while his provincial side Leinster face a derby match in Belfast against an in-form Ulster team.

Saturday will be a huge day for Irish rugby, as the national team looks to keep their Six Nations title hopes alive against old rivals England at Twickenham, and Ulster play Leinster in a top-of-the-table URC clash at the Kingspan stadium.

Johnny Sexton returns to the starting 15 to captain the national side, and Ulster captain Iain Henderson makes to the bench following injury troubles earlier in the tournament. The match will be shown live on UTV, with coverage starting from 4:15 pm.

Ulster meanwhile welcome back world cup winning no. 8 Duane Vermeulen, along with Ireland stars Robert Baloucoune and Mike Lowry, who have returned after training with the national setup earlier this week. The Ulstermen have a chance to leapfrog provincial rivals Leinster at the top of URC table when they face them at 7:35 pm this evening.

Both games will have a big impact on the title chases in their respective competitions. Ireland and England are the only two sides who can stop Grand-slam chasing France from capturing a first Six Nations title since 2010. Les Blues saw off a spirited Welsh effort in Cardiff on Friday night to maintain their 100% record.

Ulster sit second in the URC table behind Leinster, with both sides hoping to cement their chances of making the playoffs at the end of the competition's inaugural season. Ulster won the reverse fixture in Dublin in November.

Ireland will have to overcome a recent run of poor form against the old enemy in London. The last time they beat England away was the St Patrick's day grand slam match in 2018.

Since then they have suffered a number of chastening defeats, including a record loss in 2019, and a one-sided 24-12 loss in 2020.

Despite England's recent dominance in the fixture, head coach Eddie Jones has been talking up the visitors' chances. He declared Ireland "red-hot" favourites earlier in the week and described them as the most cohesive side in the world.

Perhaps displaying his penchant for mind-games, Jones also warned that his team would bring huge physicality to the contest, saying that Ireland had "not played a game as physical in a long time".

Jones may be without second row Maro Itoje, with the Saracens lock missing training on Friday due to illness. The British and Irish Lion is hoping to recover in time to face off against Ireland second rows James Ryan and Tadhg Beirne on Saturday evening.

Ulster have named a strong team for the visit of their long-time rivals. Mike Lowry and Robert Baloucoune have been in the Ireland training camp, but didn't travel to London with the matchday team and reserves. This has freed them up to start in the back three tonight, where their pace and creativity will surely be a threat.

Ulster are further strengthened by the return of Springbok back row Vermeulen, who will sit at the base of a physical pack that also includes Ireland-capped flanker Marcus Rea.

Their opponents Leinster are missing a large number of players who are away with Ireland, but they still have an experienced and exciting 23 that includes captain Luke McGrath and back-row stalwart Rhys Ruddock.

Whatever the result of both games, they are sure to be tense, exciting and incident-packed affairs that will define the seasons of all four teams.

Watch Ireland vs England live on UTV this afternoon. Kickoff is at 4:45pm with coverage starting at 4:15.