Saturday 24 February 2018

Joe Schmidt ready to ring changes as Van Der Flier and McCloskey poised for Ireland debuts

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Josh van der Flier looks set to make his Ireland debut against England on Saturday, with Joe Schmidt ready to ring the changes after a winless start to the Six Nations.

The Leinster openside appears to have beaten competition from Tommy O’Donnell for the No 7 shirt left vacant by Sean O’Brien as his outstanding breakthrough season continues.

The introduction of the 22-year-old Wesley College and UCD product is likely to be one of up to five changes to the team that disappointingly lost to France in round two.

Keith Earls is expected to come on to the left wing in place of the injured Dave Kearney, while Donnacha Ryan steps in for concussion victim Mike McCarthy in the second-row.

Fit-again Mike Ross is likely to return at tighthead prop, with Nathan White dropping to the bench, while Schmidt looks set to keep Cian Healy in reserve as Jack McGrath continues at loosehead alongside captain Rory Best.

The main talking point ahead of tomorrow's team announcement will be the availability of Jared Payne, who didn’t train on Tuesday as a result of a hamstring injury, but indications are the New Zealand-born centre is a major doubt as he faces a fitness test.

Stuart McCloskey is primed to make his debut if his Ulster colleague cannot recover in time and, with uncapped Connacht second-row Ultan Dillane expected to be named on the bench, Schmidt could hand out three first caps at one of the fiercest away venues going.

The make-up of the bench will be interesting, with Paddy Jackson pushing hard to replace Ian Madigan and Simon Zebo expected to be named as back-three cover.

England coach Eddie Jones may hand a first start to youngster Maro Itoje for Saturday’s game after losing Joe Launchbury to a hamstring problem which saw Courtney Lawes recalled to the squad.

Possible Ireland team to face England: R Kearney; A Trimble, J Payne/S McCloskey, R Henshaw, K Earls; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best (capt), M Ross; D Toner, D Ryan; CJ Stander, J Van der Flier, J Heaslip.

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