Joe Schmidt has named a match day squad containing three Ulstermen for the first round of the Six Nations against England at the Aviva Stadium. (KO 16:45)

Rory Best captains the side from hooker while Jacob Stockdale will be hoping to continue his prolific try scoring record in the competition when he starts on the left wing on Saturday. John Cooney is named as the replacement scrum half.

Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong join Rory Best in the front row while Devin Toner and James Ryan are named in the second row. It’s still a world class lock pairing that Ireland will field considering the absences of Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne. The back row is balanced and consists of Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier and CJ Stander. With Dan Leavy injured, it’s great to see van der Flier occupy the openside jersey as he brings a real threat to the breakdown.

It’s the usual suspects, Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton, at half back while Bundee Aki starts inside Garry Ringrose in the centre. Robbie Henshaw is preferred at fullback over Rob Kearney while Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls resumed their usual jerseys on the left and right wing respectively.

Ireland defeated England surprisingly comfortably at a freezing cold Twickenham to win the Grand Slam last year however England had already lost to Scotland and France in the preceding games so hadn’t much to play for. Facing them at the start of the tournament, we’ll see a different England side, evident by the exciting lineup that Eddie Jones has gone for.

Jack Nowell’s ability at the breakdown has been talked up over the last number of weeks with Jones saying that he could become a forward for England, but he starts on the left wing. Jonny May starts on the right wing while Elliot Daly is named ahead of Mike Brown at fullback. It’s a very exciting back three that have the potential to run the ball from anywhere.

The imperious Manu Tuilagi, who has been a standout player for Leicester Tigers this season, will make his first Six Nations appearance in six years starts at inside centre with Owen Farrell at 10 and George Ford on the bench. I would have thought Tuilagi would have started in his familiar 13 position allowing England to retain a 10/12 axis of George Ford and Owen Farrell.

Despite plenty of strength in depth for Ireland these days, the team generally picks itself with the only big call being Robbie Henshaw’s inclusion at fullback. Rob Kearney has struggled with a hamstring injury since November, missing Ireland’s training camp in Portugal and only returning last week in Leinster’s defeat of Scarlets in the Guinness PRO14.

Henshaw is no stranger to this position having played there for Connacht in the past as well as his international debut and Joe Schmidt has said that Henshaw has been training in that position during international camps over the last while. There may well be other options which provide more flair, such as Will Addison, Jordan Larmour or Andrew Conway, however Henshaw is a consummate professional and a player that you would rely on to do a job in an unfamiliar position.

The FRU predicts: England have generally been strong coming into a World Cup year and with a full panel available, I expect this year to be no different – they’ve won the Six Nations twice in World Cup years since the turn of the millennium. However Ireland haven’t lost at the Aviva Stadium since November 2016 and I think they’ll keep this run rolling with a narrow win over England.

Ireland England
Robbie Henshaw 15 Elliot Daly
Keith Earls 14 Jonny May
Garry Ringrose 13 Henry Slade
Bundee Aki 12 Manu Tuilagi
Jacob Stockdale 11 Jack Nowell
Johnny Sexton 10 Owen Farrell
Conor Murray 9 Ben Youngs
Cian Healy 1 Mako Vunipola
Rory Best 2 Jamie George
Tadhg Furlong 3 Kyle Sinckler
Devin Toner 4 Maro Itoje
James Ryan 5 George Kruis
Peter O’Mahony 6 Mark Wilson
Josh vd Flier 7 Tom Curry
CJ Stander 8 Billy Vunipola
Sean Cronin 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie
Dave Kilcoyne 17 Ellis Genge
Andrew Porter 18 Harry Williams
Quinn Roux 19 Courtney Lawes
Sean O’Brien 20 Nathan Hughes
John Cooney 21 Dan Robson
Joey Carbery 22 George Ford
Jordan Larmour 23 Chris Ashton
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