Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has announced the team to play England in Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations final round match at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 5pm).
The first of two changes in the back-line sees Jared Payne come in at full-back for Rob Kearney who has been ruled out with a knee injury. It will be Payne’s 20th cap and his third start in the number 15 jersey after two outings against South Africa last June.
Conor Murray is ‘not 100%’ after suffering a shoulder injury against Wales last Friday, so Connacht scrum half Kieran Marmion will make his first Six Nations start, featuring at half-back alongside Jonathan Sexton who has now scored 604 points for Ireland.
Keith Earls and Simon Zebo will complete the back-three, while Robbie Henshaw, a try scorer when Ireland beat England in Dublin two years ago, and Garry Ringrose are set for their fifth successive start together in the centre.
The third and final switch sees Devin Toner make way for Iain Henderson in the second row. The Ulsterman, who scored tries on his last two starts in green, will pair up with Donnacha Ryan.
It is as you were in both the front row and back row, with captain Rory Best packing down with Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong for his 104th cap, and CJ Stander, Sean O’Brien and Test centurion Jamie Heaslip are the loose forward trio.
Luke McGrath comes onto the bench to cover Marmion and could make his Six Nations debut, while Andrew Conway is standing by to make his international bow in the number 23 jersey. Paddy Jackson is the other reserve back, while Niall Scannell, Cian Healy, John Ryan, Toner and Peter O’Mahony are the forward options.
Commenting on the injured players and the new inclusions in the side, Joe Schmidt said: “Conor trained okay on Tuesday without contact but we fitness tested him today and felt he wasn’t 100%, if more bruising came on that shoulder and we lose him early in the game, we’re vulnerable. It’s a fantastic opportunity for Kieran.
“It’s hard to say (how long Rob is out for), he’s going to see a specialist, it’s his knee. At this stage we’re hopeful it won’t be for too long. Jared’s experience will be really important (this weekend), he played full-back in South Africa.
“He offers confidence to players in front of him, he’s a very solid player, it’s very seldom he makes an error, in skill or decision-making. His ability to see space or look after the ball, we’d have a lot of confidence in that.
“It was a tight call in the second row. Iain Henderson came off the bench (against Wales) and did really well last week. Between Donnacha Ryan and Dev we just wanted to give him a chance to start. Donnacha also did well last week, so it was just trying to get that balance.”
He added: “There’s still an opportunity to finish second which is a massive thing for us. We can still attain the target of a top two finish, so there’s still a heck of a lot for us to gain individually and collectively.”
IRELAND Team & Replacements (v England, 2017 RBS 6 Nations Championship, Aviva Stadium, Saturday, March 18, kick-off 5pm):
15. Jared Payne (Ulster) 19
14. Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) 58
13. Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster) 7
12. Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster) 28
11. Simon Zebo (Cork Constitution/Munster) 32
10. Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 65
9. Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht) 11
1. Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 40
2. Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) (capt) 103
3. Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster) 15
4. Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster) 46
5. Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 31
6. CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster) 14
7. Sean O’Brien (UCD/Leinster) 48
8. Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster) (vice-capt) 95
16. Niall Scannell (Dolphin/Munster) 3
17. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 66
18. John Ryan (Cork Constitution/Munster) 5
19. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 46
20. Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster) 39
21. Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster) 1
22. Paddy Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster) 23
23. Andrew Conway (Garryowen/Munster) *
* Denotes uncapped player at international level