Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has made one change to the team to face England in Saturday’s NatWest 6 Nations final round match at Twickenham (kick-off 2.45pm).
Iain Henderson’s selection in the second row is the only change to the side that accounted for Scotland last time out. It is the same lock pairing from the first round win in France as Henderson and the 21-year-old James Ryan start, with Devin Toner providing back-up.
Making his 60th Championship appearance, Rory Best captains Ireland from the front row, flanked by Leinster props Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong. Loose forwards Peter O’Mahony, Dan Leavy and CJ Stander start together for the third successive match.
Ireland’s unchanged back-line contains the 2018 Six Nations’ leading try scorer, winger Jacob Stockdale (six tries), and the joint-second top points scorer, out-half Jonathan Sexton (40 points). Sexton and Conor Murray will look to outplay England’s half-back pairing of Owen Farrell and Richard Wigglesworth.
Garry Ringrose and Bundee Aki continue their centre partnership after a successful first outing together against the Scots, while Rob Kearney, who took a full part in training today after sitting out Tuesday’s session, has Stockdale and Keith Earls for company again in the back-three.
Apart from Toner’s inclusion, Ireland’s replacement bench is unchanged as Joe Schmidt’s men head to London with an unassailable eight-point lead at the top of the table. They will claim their third Six Nations title in five years, and a fifth win of the campaign would secure Ireland’s first Grand Slam and Triple Crown since 2009.
“There is a sense of anticipation, a sense of nervousness. The magnitude of what it will take to get us over the line is very much uppermost in the thinking,” said Schmidt. “At the same time, there has been a good opportunity to relax a little bit and recover from what was a pretty intense game against Scotland.
“It’s a similar rhythm to our week. We probably don’t want to break that rhythm up too much because it has served us so well this far.”
Chasing Ireland’s first victory at Twickenham since 2010 and referencing last season’s 13-9 success against England in Dublin, he added: “I don’t think any of the team would care if it was three-nil. I don’t think we would be uninspired by a three-nil victory, because we know what’s at stake.
“And what’s at stake is a fantastic opportunity, not just to achieve a Grand Slam, but to go a year unbeaten. We wouldn’t have dreamed of that this time last year. This time last year we were scrambling around, we thought Conor (Murray) was going to play on the Thursday, and Kieran Marmion came in and did superbly. And Jared Payne played his only game of the Six Nations.
“That character reference that we have from that group has helped us build from there on. And hopefully we can continue to build on that. That would be special for us in all sorts of ways, because of the Championship and what is at stake.”
IRELAND Team & Replacements (v England, 2018 NatWest 6 Nations Championship, Twickenham, Saturday, March 17, kick-off 2.45pm):
15. Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster) 82
14. Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) 66
13. Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster) 12
12. Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht) 6
11. Jacob Stockdale (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 8
10. Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 72
9. Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster) 63
1. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 77
2. Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) (capt) 110
3. Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster) 22
4. James Ryan (UCD/Leinster) 7
5. Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 37
6. Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster) 46
7. Dan Leavy (UCD/Leinster) 8
8. CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster) 22
16. Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 60
17. Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 46
18. Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster) 6
19. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 57
20. Jordi Murphy (Lansdowne/Leinster) 19
21. Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht) 20
22. Joey Carbery (Clontarf/Leinster) 9
23. Jordan Larmour (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 2