The Ireland coaching team have named the side that will face England in Saturday’s final Rugby World Cup warm-up match at Twickenham (kick-off 2.30pm).
The selected team shows seven personnel changes from the 16-10 defeat to Wales, with Simon Zebo, Tommy Bowe and Jared Payne returning to the back-line and Rory Best, Mike Ross, Devin Toner and Sean O’Brien all restored up front.
Paul O’Connell captains Ireland for the 25th time and is partnered in the second row by Toner. The back row is made up of number 8 Jamie Heaslip, who wins his 75th cap, Peter O’Mahony on the blindside and O’Brien at openside. Jack McGrath is joined by Best and Ross in the front row.
Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton are retained at half-back with Robbie Henshaw and Payne reunited in midfield for the first time this season. The back-three is made up of Zebo at full-back and Bowe and Dave Kearney on the wings.
The replacements are Richardt Strauss, recent debutants Tadhg Furlong and Nathan White, Donnacha Ryan, Chris Henry, Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan and Darren Cave.
Speaking about the selection of the back-three, head coach Joe Schmidt said: “We just felt it was important to get Simon a little bit more time at full-back once we decided he was going to cover full-back for us. Rob Kearney has a bruise on his knee but he trained fully and we could have picked him.
“We wanted to give Simon another run at full-back, and Dave Kearney and Tommy Bowe again on the wings. We thought about putting maybe Luke (Fitzgerald) or Rob on the bench, but Darren Cave is the other guy who has had the least amount of game-time so it was good to get Darren into the group as well.
“Because with Jared and Robbie, we can always drop someone else back to full-back, they’ve slotted in pretty seamlessly in amongst it at training this week.”
Schmidt also gave a positive update on Keith Earls and Fitzgerald, who both had to be replaced during the second half against Wales last Saturday. “Keith has completed his return-to-play protocols thus far, so we’d expect that he would probably have been fit to be selected,” he stated.
“But the thing with Keith and what we’re trying to do with balance at the moment, there are some guys that play really well fresh and others that need to get a bit more of a game rhythm, and Keith has had a couple of outings.
“In the first (warm-up) game at the Millennium Stadium I thought he looked super sharp, so to have him fresh where there’s a small degree of doubt then it just made sense. Luke trained fully through the week, did a little bit of contact today, no problem. He would be fully fit, but he’s had two starts already.”
IRELAND Team & Replacements (v England, 2015 Rugby World Cup Warm-Up Match, Twickenham Stadium, Saturday, September 5, kick-off 2.30pm):
15. Simon Zebo (Cork Constitution/Munster)
14. Tommy Bowe (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster)
13. Jared Payne (Ulster)
12. Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Connacht)
11. Dave Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster)
10. Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
9. Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster)
1. Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
2. Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster)
3. Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster)
4. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster)
5. Paul O’Connell (Young Munster) (capt)
6. Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster)
7. Sean O’Brien (UCD/Leinster)
8. Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster)
16. Richardt Strauss (Old Wesley/Leinster)
17. Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster)
18. Nathan White (Connacht)
19. Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster)
20. Chris Henry (Malone/Ulster)
21. Eoin Reddan (Old Crescent/Leinster)
22. Ian Madigan (Blackrock College/Leinster)
23. Darren Cave (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster)