Iain Henderson is recalled to the Ireland side that will take on England at Twickenham tomorrow in this year’s Six Nations Grand Slam decider.
Henderson, who scored the decisive try to deny England the Grand Slam last year, is the only change to the side. Cian Healy has been passed fit after an injury scare during the Scotland match.
Rory Best aims to be the first Ulsterman to guide Ireland a Six Nations Grand Slam and also only the third captain in Irish Rugby history. Best starts in the front row alongside Healy and Tadhg Furlong. Devin Toner drops to the bench to accommodate Henderson who is joined by James Ryan in the second row. Peter O’Mahony, Dan Leavy and CJ Stander make up a familiar back row trio.
Thankfully no more injuries have occurred in the back line. Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton start in their usual roles at halfback. Garry Ringrose starts at outside centre for the second game in a row and is joined at inside centre by Bundee Aki. Jacob Stockdale aims to extend his try scoring run to four matches in a row and starts on the left wing. Keith Earls remains on the right wing while Rob Kearney starts at fullback after an impressive performance against Scotland.
Only two of the players starting tomorrow, Rory Best and Rob Kearney, featured in the Grand Slam triumph in 2009 and their experience will be crucial if Ireland are to heave themselves over the line to record another famous victory at Twickenham.
What impressed me about Ireland last week was Ireland’s ruthlessness. It was a game against a resurgent Scottish side who had come off the back of a terrific victory over England and was a potential banana skin. Instead, it looked like a match that Ireland were never going to lose. Possession and territory statistics were firmly in Ireland’s favour, which has been a trend throughout the tournament, and this forced the Scots to make an obscene number of tackles (204). John Barclay topped the statistics with 28.
Against France, England looked lethargic, but, buoyed by the chance to avenge their defeat last year and the seven changes made, they will ask Ireland questions that none of the other sides have asked. Richard Wigglesworth starts at scrum half for the first time in the Six Nations since 2008, with Saracen’s team mate, Owen Farrell at outhalf instead of inside centre.
England’s back three disappointed last week in a match where I tipped them to excel, but they persist with Jonny May, Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly. Despite misfiring, I still think they have the potential to light up the stage For the most part Ireland have been defensively solid this tournament and the same intensity must be achieved.
Sam Simmonds capped off a fine Six Nations debut against Italy with two tries and his speed is lethal around the edges of the ruck while the Dan Leavy battle against Chris Robshaw will likely determine the outcome of this match. Ireland dealt well with the prowess of John Barclay and Hamish Watson at the breakdown, but this represents a tougher battle.
The FRU predicts: While Ireland are playing well and England have hit a rough patch, I expect this match will be as gripping as the 2009 finale. Home comforts hand England an advantage and considering only one Grand Slam has been one since 2012. Hoping to put the scud on England, I’ll tip them slightly.
|Anthony Watson||15||Rob Kearney|
|Jonny May||14||Keith Earls|
|Jonathan Joseph||13||Garry Ringrose|
|Ben Te’o||12||Bundee Aki|
|Elliot Daly||11||Jacob Stockdale|
|Owen Farrell||10||Johnny Sexton|
|Richard Wigglesworth||9||Conor Murray|
|Mako Vunipola||1||Cian Healy|
|Dylan Hartley||2||Rory Best|
|Kyle Sinckler||3||Tadhg Furlong|
|Maro Itoje||4||James Ryan|
|George Kruis||5||Iain Henderson|
|Chris Robshaw||6||Peter O’Mahony|
|James Haskell||7||Dan Leavy|
|Sam Simmonds||8||CJ Stander|
|Jamie George||16||Sean Cronin|
|Joe Marler||17||Jack McGrath|
|Dan Cole||18||Andrew Porter|
|Joe Launchbury||19||Devin Toner|
|Don Armand||20||Jordi Murphy|
|Danny Care||21||Kieran Marmion|
|George Ford||22||Joey Carbery|
|Mike Brown||23||Jordan Larmour|