Tuesday 14 August 2018

Luke Fitzgerald comes in from the wilderness as Simon Zebo misses out on matchday 23

Ruaidhri O’Connor

LUKE FITZGERALD is back in the Ireland starting XV for the first time since 2011 as Joe Schmidt makes two changes to his team to face Scotland in the final game of this year’s Six Nations.

The Leinster back is named on the left wing and comes in at the expense of Simon Zebo, while Cian Healy replaces Jack McGrath at loosehead prop for his first start of the Championship.

Fitzgerald leapfrogs Felix Jones from outside the matchday 23 and into the team, with Schmidt cutting Zebo altogether after an under par performance in Cardiff as his Munster teammate retains his place on the bench despite not being used against Wales when Ireland were chasing the game.

Ever-present on the bench this campaign, Jones has seen just 23 minutes of action and wasn’t brought into the fray against France or Wales.

Fitzgerald’s career has been plagued with injury in recent years. He last played for Ireland as a replacement in the defeat to New Zealand in November 2013 and he came off the bench three times in that year’s Six Nations. His last start came against France in a 2011 World Cup warm-up game, while his last Six Nations start was at the Millenium Stadium earlier that year.

The decision to switch Healy and McGrath hands the more experienced Leinster prop his first Ireland start of the season. Healy is coming back after injuring his hamstring early in the season and has come off the bench in the last three games.

Schmidt has otherwise kept fair with the squad who have delivered three wins out of four in the Six Nations to date, with Rory Best and Devin Toner holding off the fine performances of Sean Cronin and Iain Henderson off the bench last weekend.

That means 10 players have started every game of this year’s Six Nations, with Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip, Johnny Sexton and McGrath missing one each.

Defeat to Wales has left the champions with a tall order to retain their title, level on points with England and Wales. Stuart Lancaster’s side are the leaders on points difference, with a four point advantage over Schmidt’s men, while Wales are 21 points back.

Warren Gatland’s team kick off proceedings in Rome at 12.30 on Saturday, while Ireland’s game against Scotland at Murrayfield is at 2.30 and England close proceedings against France at home at 5pm.

Ireland team to face Scotland: (15-9) Rob Kearney; Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Luke Fitzgerald; Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; (1-8) Cian Healy, Rory Best, Mike Ross; Devin Toner, Paul O’Connell (capt); Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip.

Replacements: (16-23) Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Martin Moore, Iain Henderson, Jordi Murphy, Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan, Felix Jones.

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