Ireland roll the dice against England

Jonny Sexton talks to the Ireland squad at training

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has rolled the dice for this weekend’s Six Nations match against England by naming three uncapped players in his team for Twickenham.

Schmidt has made five changes to the team that lost 10-9 to France in Paris and Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey and Josh van der Flier from Leinster come in at centre and back row to make their debut.

The third new cap is on the bench where twenty-two-year-old Ultan Dillane will hope to come on for his debut.

Hooker Rory Best leads the team and is joined in the front row by Jack McGrath and fit-again tighthead Mike Ross, who was last involved in the Rugby World Cup quarter-final clash with Argentina.

With Mike McCarthy sidelined through concussion, Munster’s Donnacha Ryan comes in to partner Devin Toner in the second row. It will be the Tipperary man’s first Six Nations start since the 2013 tournament.

The aforementioned van der Flier (22) will take the reins from his injured provincial colleague Sean O’Brien at openside flanker, and CJ Stander and Jamie Heaslip complete the back row combination.

The starting half-backs are Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton once again, with Robbie Henshaw – a try scorer in this equivalent fixture last year – shifting to outside centre and 23-year-old new cap McCloskey filling the number 12 jersey. Jared Payne is nursing a hamstring injury.

Keith Earls is back to full fitness and joins Andrew Trimble and Rob Kearney in the back-three, while Cian Healy and Simon Zebo are two other notable inclusions on the bench. The Leinster prop has recovered from the minor knee operation he had last month.

Commenting on starting debutants McCloskey and van der Flier, Joe Schmidt said: “Josh has been a player who has impressed right through the season. He gets an opportunity and a huge responsibility to go out and capture that seven jersey in what will be a really tough test for him.

“Stuart has some impressive elements to his game that we want to get the most from. For him, again, we want him to express himself but he has a responsibility to be as watertight as we can be in what will be a tough area to defend, in some of the wing plays they play coming through there and with Owen Farrell and Jonathan Joseph testing him.”


15. Rob Kearney , 14. Andrew Trimble , 13. Robbie Henshaw , 12. Stuart McCloskey , 11. Keith Earls , 10. Jonathan Sexton , 9. Conor Murray , 1. Jack McGrath , 2. Rory Best , 3. Mike Ross , 4. Donnacha Ryan , 5. Devin Toner , 6. CJ Stander , 7. Josh van der Flier , 8. Jamie Heaslip

Replacements: 16. Richardt Strauss , 17. Cian Healy , 18. Nathan White , 19. Ultan Dillane , 20. Rhys Ruddock , 21. Eoin Reddan , 22. Ian Madigan , 23. Simon Zebo

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