Ireland's Kiwi ace returns
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Jamison Gibson-Park has been handed the scrumhalf role by Ireland coach Andy Farrell as the Irish bid to seal the Six Nations Grand Slam by beating England at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.
Gibson-Park had missed the first three matches due to injury but he gets the nod ahead of veteran Conor Murray as he looked sharp when he came on for the second half of last Sunday’s win over Scotland.
Gibson-Park had in any case replaced Murray as number one prior to the Six Nations although the latter has impressed in his rival’s absence.
The New Zealand-born player teams up with his Leinster team-mate and Irish skipper Johnny Sexton, who will be making his 60th and final Six Nations appearance.
“Just a good feel,” Farrell said at his press conference regarding the choice of Gibson-Park.
“Jamison has only been back for a couple of weeks but training serves to give you selection headaches.
“We felt he is the right man to tackle the game due to the way he played against Scotland in the second half.”
Sexton, 37, will be hoping for a dream curtain call of becoming the tournament’s all-time record points scorer – he is level with compatriot Ronan O’Gara on 557 points – and the first Ireland captain to seal an Irish Grand Slam in Dublin.
The other three have come in Belfast (1948), Cardiff (2009) and Twickenham (2018).
Aside from Gibson-Park, Farrell brings in lock Ryan Baird for the injured Iain Henderson and Robbie Henshaw lines up alongside Bundee Aki in the centres with Garry Ringrose ruled out.
Both hooker Dan Sheehan and outstanding No.8 Caelan Doris have recovered from injuries which forced them off in the Scotland game.
World player of the year Josh van der Flier will win his 50th cap.
Twelve of the starting XV are from Leinster.
Ireland will start as hot favourites with England arriving on the back of a record 53-10 hammering at Twickenham by France last Saturday.
(Continue below …)
However, the English will hope to ruin Ireland’s day just as the hosts did theirs on three occasions, denying them the Grand Slam on the final day in 2001, 2011 and 2017.
Farrell, though, says the Irish are determined to not let down the supporters as it can bring with it a legacy for the sport in Ireland.
“We genuinely care about the game in Ireland,” he said.
“It is the fourth biggest sport on the island, we want to inspire a generation of people to enjoy their rugby.
“We know millions of Irish people and those of Irish descent all round the world will be watching and we understand our responsibility.”
Farrell also said anyone expecting England to lie down for the Irish after their French mauling would be wide of the mark.
“I expect them to honour what they have been saying, to come and fight,” said Farrell.
“Of course they will be formidable opponents for us at the weekend.
“I think they will have the emotional edge as there is no better tonic than getting out there and putting things right.”
His son Owen will be on the opposing side but Farrell says their discussions do not veer into sensitive territory.
“I have a conversation with Owen but we do not ask questions that put the person in too much of a predicament,” said Farrell.
The 47-year-old former rugby league legend added, though, it was different with the grandchildren.
“The grandkids are coming over and I am going to try and get them into the captain’s run and work on them to be cheering on Ireland on Saturday.”
Ireland: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Mack Hansen, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 9 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Ryan Baird, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Jimmy O’Brien.
Date: Saturday, March 18
Venue: Lansdowne Road, Dublin
Kick-off: 17.00 (17.00 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Pierre Brousset (France)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)