Ireland changes for trip to Cardiff
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Ireland has made four changes to their team to face Wales in Round One of the Six Nations in Cardiff on Sunday.
James Lowe, Garry Ringrose, Tadhg Beirne and Josh van der Flier are all chosen to start at the expense of Jacob Stockdale, Bundee Aki, Iain Henderson and Caelan Doris.
Stockdale was omitted from the squad picked last month by Andy Farrell and his spot at fullback is taken by Hugo Keenan, who moves from the right wing, a reshuffle that sees Keith Earls switch from left to the right to accommodate Lowe.
The second change in the backline selection comes at midfield – where Aki, a near ever-present at No.12 since he first qualified under residency in 2017, loses out to the fit-again Ringrose, who will play at No.13 – with Robbie Henshaw, his Leinster colleague, taking over the Aki role.
It’s a first start for the pair together at Test level since the 2019 World Cup quarter-final loss to New Zealand.
Johnny Sexton will captain the side as he competes in his 12th Six Nations championship. He is joined in the halfbacks by Conor Murray, who is one of five players from the matchday squad who played in Ireland’s last Six Nations victory in Cardiff in 2013 (Murray, Sexton, Cian Healy, Peter O’Mahony and Earls).
In the pack, the front row is along expected lines, Healy making his 50th championship appearance and being joined by Rob Herring and Andrew Porter.
The recalled Beirne gets in ahead of the benched Henderson to partner James Ryan at lock while the place of the concussed Doris in the back row is taken by van der Flier, a selection that sees CJ Stander move from No.6 to No.8, while O’Mahony switches from openside to blindside.
The replacements are Ronan Kelleher, Dave Kilcoyne, Tadhg Furlong, Henderson, Will Connors, Jamison Gibson-Park, Billy Burns and Jordan Larmour.
Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Jonathan Sexton (captain), 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Tadhg Beirne, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Will Connors, 21 Jamison Gibson Park, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Jordan Larmour.
Date: Sunday, February 7
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 15.00 (15.00 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Luke Pearce (England), Alex Ruiz (France)
TMO: Tom Foley (England)