Ireland drop Kiwi star
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: James Lowe has been dropped entirely from Ireland’s matchday squad as Andy Farrell makes six changes to the starting fifteen that beat Scotland in last weekend’s Six Nations.
There six new faces and two positional changes in the 15 off the back of Ireland’s heavy injury toll following their bruising encounter with the Scots in Murrayfield.
Scrumhalf Conor Murray resumes his partnership with long-time half-back partner Ireland captain Johnny Sexton for their final Six Nations clash against England on Saturday.
Murray has been out of action since straining a hamstring before the second game of the tournament, a 15-13 defeat by France.
Despite being on the replacements bench for last week’s 27-24 win over Scotland, Murray did not get a minute as Jamison Gibson-Park played the whole game.
“Conor has had another week training,” head coach Andy Farrell said on Thursday. “He is fresh, fit and raring to go. He is a big-game player.”
Murray’s inclusion is one of six changes to the starting line-up made by head coach Farrell in what will be CJ Stander’s 51st and final Test for Ireland.
The South African shocked Irish rugby fans with his decision earlier this week to retire at the end of the season.
He moves to flank from his usual No. 8 spot, with Jack Conan starting in that position.
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Stander will hope to end his career in the green jersey on a high against England — he scored a try against Eddie Jones’s side as the Irish sealed the 2018 Grand Slam at Twickenham.
Farrell said Stander had made his mind up several weeks ago.
“He has been fantastic and is in a great mood,” he said. “We are making sure he will enjoy this weekend. We will all be with him on that.”
In another change to the backrow that beat Scotland, Josh van der Flier is selected as Will Connors was ruled out with a knee injury.
Farrell has brought back Jacob Stockdale for his first appearance of the campaign after his recovery from a knee problem.
The 24-year-old replaces Lowe on the wing, where Farrell will hope he will be more reliable in defence than the New Zealand-born flier, whose inadequacies in that area have been exposed at Test level.
“We talked with James about a few things over the series,” said Farrell. “He is very young in Test terms so we are looking forward to him progressing.”
Bundee Aki makes his first appearance of the Six Nations alongside Robbie Henshaw in the centres, with Garry Ringrose ruled out due to an ankle injury.
Tadhg Beirne moves from the back row to the second row to partner Iain Henderson, with the influential James Ryan unable to play because of a head knock in last week’s win against Scotland.
Sexton will be winning his 99th cap for Ireland and has called on his teammates to end their losing run against England, whom they have not beaten since 2018.
Eddie Jones’s side arrive bolstered by an impressive win over France, having easily seen off Farrell’s team twice last year.
Ireland are second in the Six Nations table after four matches but cannot catch leaders Wales, while England are fourth.
Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan; 14 Keith Earls, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale; 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Conor Murray; 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 CJ Stander; 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Iain Henderson; 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Jack Kilcoyne
Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Ryan Baird, 20 Peter O’Mahony, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Jordan Larmour
Date: Saturday, March 20
Venue: Lansdowne Road, Dublin
Kick-off: 16.45 (16.45 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gauzere (France), Alex Ruiz (France)
TMO: Romain Poite (France)
Source: AFP & Rugbypass