Andy Farrell has declared his Ireland squad ‘fit and raring to go’ for Saturday’s final leg of a potential first Guinness Six Nations title and Grand Slam since 2018.
Victory over England would seal the Ireland Men’s fourth ever Grand Slam – they have never won one in Dublin before – and their fourth Championship success in ten seasons.
After last Sunday’s hard-fought win in Edinburgh, Caelan Doris and Dan Sheehan have given the table toppers a fitness boost by overcoming their respective hip and shoulder injuries to start this weekend.
Robbie Henshaw and Ryan Baird take over from the injured Garry Ringrose and Iain Henderson in the starting XV, while Jamison Gibson-Park gets the nod at scrum half.
“It’s a strong side, happy with it obviously,” admitted Farrell at today’s team announcement press conference. “Fit and raring to go. Obviously gutted for people like Garry and Iain who miss out on the last weekend.
“But the lads who come in, they’ve got their chance to put their best foot forward. Yeah, we’re happy with where we’re at.
“Training went well yesterday, Captain’s Run tomorrow, so fingers crossed everyone comes through for the game nice and healthy.”
Gibson-Park’s impact off the bench during the 22-7 defeat of Scotland helped him to reclaim the number 9 jersey. Like others, his ability to quickly get up to speed after an injury lay-off has been a real shot in the arm for Farrell’s men.
Henshaw and Tadhg Furlong were also back in action against the Scots, the latter putting in a big 64-minute shift on his return, and Farrell feels Gibson-Park will make the most of his first Test start since November.
“It was just a gut feel,” he said of his selection at scrum half. “Jamison’s back with the team now for a couple of weeks. Whilst the lads have been rehabbing away, they have not been practising with the team that much.
“The fallow week allowed Jamison, Robbie, Tadhg, etc. to get their feet under the table, so obviously the more time that they can spend doing the rugby bits, training, gives you the headaches that you want in terms of selection.
“You watch and look in training, how Jamison played when he came off the bench. He’s the right man to go and attack the game.”
Further fresh legs come onto the replacements bench in the form of Ulster forwards Rob Herring and Kieran Treadwell, whose last Six Nations involvement was against Scotland a year ago, and Leinster’s Jimmy O’Brien.
O’Brien provides additional coverage in the back-line and will be hoping to get some more game-time after making his Championship debut late on against Italy last month.
“Jimmy’s not had as many matchday involvements that he would have liked, in comparison to what he’s done over the last year or so. But, it’s funny how things work out, isn’t it?
“Stu McCloskey has been unbelievably unlucky in that regard. Jimmy’s versatility gives us good scope off the bench.”
The odds are very much in Ireland’s favour, although they will be wary of a wounded England team who are smarting from that record loss to France. They did win their only previous away game this year, taking a 20-10 verdict in Cardiff.
Nonetheless, Farrell’s charges won their last two clashes with England, scoring 32 points on both occasions, and another triumphant performance on Saturday would extend their Six Nations winning streak to a best ever eight in-a-row.
Asked about how his charges are coping with the pressure of going for the Grand Slam, Farrell insisted: “Being the best version of ourselves is absolutely the key. The outcome of what people think we’re chasing is the trophy, but we’re not.
“We all know that it matters, but performing under that type of pressure is the next step for us. We always challenge ourselves and that’s something that we do pretty well.
“The week’s been pretty abrasive, if I’m honest, in regards to what we need to be better at, where we need to take our game, and the expectation of making sure that our best is saved till last is key for us.”