Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has named the matchday squad that will take on England in the RBS 6 Nations on Saturday. There are three uncapped players included for the trip to Twickenham.
There are five changes in personnel to the side that lost 10-9 away to France last time out, with Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey and Josh van der Flier from Leinster set for their Ireland debuts in the centre and back row respectively.
There is a third international newcomer on the bench in the form of Connacht youngster Ultan Dillane (22) as Ireland aim for their first win of the 2016 Championship in London.
Hooker Rory Best leads the team and is joined in the front row by Jack McGrath and fit-again tighthead Mike Ross, who was last involved in the Rugby World Cup quarter-final clash with Argentina.
With Mike McCarthy sidelined through concussion, Munster’s Donnacha Ryan comes in to partner Devin Toner in the second row. It will be the Tipperary man’s first Six Nations start since the 2013 tournament.
The aforementioned van der Flier (22) will take the reins from his injured provincial colleague Sean O’Brien at openside flanker, and CJ Stander and Jamie Heaslip complete the back row combination.
The starting half-backs are Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton once again, with Robbie Henshaw – a try scorer in this equivalent fixture last year – shifting to outside centre and 23-year-old new cap McCloskey filling the number 12 jersey. Jared Payne is nursing a hamstring injury.
Keith Earls is back to full fitness and joins Andrew Trimble and Rob Kearney in the back-three, while Cian Healy and Simon Zebo are two other notable inclusions on the bench. The Leinster prop has recovered from the minor knee operation he had last month.
Commenting on starting debutants McCloskey and van der Flier, Joe Schmidt said: “Josh has been a player who has impressed right through the season. He gets an opportunity and a huge responsibility to go out and capture that seven jersey in what will be a really tough test for him.
“Stuart has some impressive elements to his game that we want to get the most from. For him, again, we want him to express himself but he has a responsibility to be as watertight as we can be in what will be a tough area to defend, in some of the wing plays they play coming through there and with Owen Farrell and Jonathan Joseph testing him.”
IRELAND Team & Replacements (v England, 2016 RBS 6 Nations Championship, Twickenham, Saturday, February 27, kick-off 4.50pm):
15. Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster) 68
14. Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster) 60
13. Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Connacht) 17
12. Stuart McCloskey (Ballynahinch/Ulster) *
11. Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) 47
10. Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 58
9. Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster) 44
1. Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 27
2. Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) (capt) 91
3. Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster) 56
4. Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster) 36
5. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 33
6. CJ Stander (Munster) 2
7. Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster) *
8. Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster) (vice-capt) 82
16. Richardt Strauss (Old Wesley/Leinster) 14
17. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 56
18. Nathan White (Connacht) 10
19. Ultan Dillane (Corinthians/Connacht) *
20. Rhys Ruddock (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 7
21. Eoin Reddan (Old Crescent/Leinster) 68
22. Ian Madigan (Blackrock College/Leinster) 27
23. Simon Zebo (Cork Constitution/Munster) 22
* Denotes uncapped player