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.
|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|