Ireland v England - teams and predictions
SIX NATIONS ROUND FIVE: Ireland host England in their final Six Nations match on Saturday with both sides hoping to end on a high note after mixed campaigns.
Ireland’s last Stander, Christiaan Stander, was born in South Africa but has given his heart and soul in the green jersey of Ireland after qualifying through residency rules.
The 30-year-old will end his career with Ireland with his 51st cap following his shock announcement this week that he would be retiring at the end of the season.
Stander may not be easy on the eye for those who seek crowd-pleasing side-stepping runs but he has put his body on the line.
A try in the Grand Slam-sealing win of 2018 at Twickenham showed he could be there at the business end.
To his teammates he is indispensable and his departure will leave a huge hole.
Captain Johnny Sexton said Ireland must channel their emotions in order to give Stander a proper send-off.
“Sometimes you can have these big send-offs or big occasions, you know, if it is a 50th or a 100th cap or something and it can get to guys, the emotion can be a bit too much,” said Sexton.
“You have to harness it the right way.”
England has picked up speed as the tournament enters its final stretch and victory over the Irish would confirm they are on the right track.
The team that ended France’s Grand Slam hopes last week were a far cry from the one out-fought by Scotland at the start of the tournament.
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Owen Farrell and other Saracens players were ring-rusty coming into the Six Nations, with no club games under their belts after the second-tier Championship was suspended as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coach Eddie Jones has compared their situation to that at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, where the joy of a semi-final victory over New Zealand was followed by painful defeat in the Final against South Africa.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to show that we have learned to keep the noise out, we have learned to understand what the game will present and play the game to the best of our ability, which we weren’t able to do in the World Cup final,” he said.
Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale and England’s Elliot Daly can end frustrating Six Nations campaigns by re-establishing their Test credentials.
Stockdale gets his first run-out of the tournament on the wing after missing the first four games with a knee problem.
However, Hugo Keenan has done so well at full-back that the slot originally thought to be Stockdale’s new home has been blocked for the moment.
The 24-year-old gets his chance because of James Lowe’s weakness in defence, although Stockdale has been known to have a few chinks in that department as well.
“We all know how dangerous he is,” said head coach Andy Farrell.
“He makes things happen, he looks really sharp and having been injured has now a good few games [for Ulster] behind him.”
Daly gets a start at outside centre, a position he last played at Test level in 2016, because of an injury to Henry Slade.
Jones has been impressed by the way the 28-year-old reacted to being dropped from the starting line-up for the France game.
“Elliot’s had to dig down deep into himself and find the best of himself,” said Jones.
Players to watch
For Ireland: Scrumhalf Conor Murray resumes his partnership with long-time halfback partner and Ireland captain Johnny Sexton. Murray has been out of action since straining a hamstring before the second game of the tournament. Murray’s inclusion is one of six changes to the starting line-up. It will also be Christiaan Stander’s 51st and final Test for Ireland. The South African shocked 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.
For England: Elliot Daly, best known at Test level as a fullback, returns in place of the injured Henry Slade at outside centre. The 28-year-old last played a Test at outside centre against South Africa in 2016. It also affords Max Malins another run at fullback. Tom Curry received high [raise this week, with a suggestion that he could become “as good” as Richie McCaw. Maro Itoje will also be in the spotlight after some disciplinary lapses earlier in the season.
Head to head
The midfield battle will be special – Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki Ireland) against Elliot Daly and Owen Farrell (England), a classic case of brains against brawn. The breakdown battle will also be interesting – especially Christiaan Stander (Ireland) versus Mark Wilson (England).
@rugby365com: England by five points
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.
England: 15 Max Malins, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Owen Farrell (captain), 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Charlie Ewels, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Jonny Hill, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Ollie Lawrence, 23 Joe Marchant.
Date: Saturday, March 20
Venue: Lansdowne Road, Dublin
Kick-off: 16.45 (16.45 GMT)
Expected weather: Partly sunny. High of 11°C and a low of 2°C
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gauzere (France), Alex Ruiz (France)
TMO: Romain Poite (France)