Old guard to salvage Ireland reputation
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Ireland captain Johnny Sexton returns to partner Conor Murray at scrumhalf as head coach Andy Farrell hopes to end a difficult first year in charge with a morale-boosting win over Scotland on Saturday.
Farrell’s men host the Scots in their Autumn Nations Cup third/fourth place play-off with the Englishman’s results this year termed ‘an average return’ by David Nucifora, the IRFU performance director.
Farrell has recalled several stalwarts to the side as he bids to at least end 2020 by preserving his 100 percent record at home, including a 19-12 win over the Scots in the Six Nations.
Sexton returns after recovering from a hamstring strain which saw him miss the 7-18 loss to England and the scrappy 23-10 win over Georgia last Sunday.
The 35-year-old flyhalf will team up with Murray for the 64th time – including two Tests for the British & Irish Lions – the latter having got over a dead leg he suffered in the Georgian game.
Sexton and Murray’s long history together contrasts to that of Scotland’s half-back pairing which sees Jaco van der Walt make his debut at flyhalf, partnering Ali Price.
“Johnny coming back is a big boost for the lads,” said Farrell at his press conference.
“Johnny is the captain for a reason and he has been missing the past couple of weeks although he has been working very hard in the background.
“He is chomping at the bit and raring to go.”
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Farrell lines up experienced former Connacht teammates Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw in the centres, replacing Chris Farrell and Stuart McCloskey.
Flank Peter O’Mahony and fellow veteran, prop Cian Healy, also return to the starting line-up.
Farrell has used 34 players across the tournament as he seeks to find a core group to take into the Six Nations next year.
There seems certain to be a 35th with Ulster prop Eric O’Sullivan being called up to the replacement bench.
Farrell said he feels a big performance is within the team’s grasp.
“We have seen snippets and we have created a lot of chances but we have not converted them,” he said.
The 45-year-old said the weekend’s game will be the final one of six Tests which he has used with an eye on next year’s Six Nations.
“The Scots will be bullish but we are in a determined mood,” he said.
“We want to be better than the second-half performance last Sunday, admittedly with a slightly different team this time, against a very good Scottish side.
“It was a tough ask last time against the Scots. But what has been going on over the last five games is about building towards next year’s Six Nations and this match is a big building block.”
Ireland: 15 Jacob Stockdale, 14 Hugo Keenan, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Robbie Henshaw 11 Keith Earls, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Conor Murray, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Peter O’Mahony, 6 CJ Stander, 5 James Ryan, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 John Ryan, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Chris Farrell.
Date: Saturday, December 5
Venue: Lansdowne Road, Dublin
Kick-off: 14.15 (14.14 GMT)
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant referees: Romain Poite, Karl Dickson
TMO: Dan Jones