Monday 19 March 2018

Schmidt set to stick to his guns

Joe Schmidt. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Joe Schmidt. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Joe Schmidt looks set to offer the starting XV who came up short in Cardiff a shot at redemption against England at the Aviva Stadium if they can come through training this morning.

Keith Earls looks set to be retained on the right wing if he can shrug off the groin strain that kept him out of Monday and Tuesday's sessions, while Conor Murray will partner Johnny Sexton at half-back unless he shows any ill-effects of the shoulder injury he suffered against Wales last Friday as Ireland look to finish their campaign on a high.

Jared Payne could come on to the Ireland bench in place of the injured Tommy Bowe in the sole change to the 23 against an English side chasing a world record 19th win in a row.

Payne remains short of match fitness despite playing three times for Ulster in recent weeks after a long lay-off as a result of a kidney injury suffered against Australia in November.

Otherwise, the head coach looks likely to resist calls for change by keeping Peter O'Mahony in reserve and retaining the back-row of CJ Stander, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip that has started throughout the campaign.

Rob Kearney is set to continue at full-back, with Earls and Simon Zebo on the wings with Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw partnering up in the centre.

Up front, Jack McGrath, Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong will be bolstered by Donnacha Ryan and Devin Toner in the second-row.

England are targeting back-to-back Grand Slams, but Zebo says Ireland are fully focused on themselves and avoiding a third defeat in the Six Nations.

"We've lost two games, but we still have a chance to finish in the top half of the table, we're hugely excited about that," the Munster winger said.

"More importantly, we have the opportunity to put in a huge performance for ourselves, our fans and our families.

"We're not looking at where they (England) are and where they've come from - the same for us - we're just focusing on beating them, and if we do that, we'll be in an even better place."

England are likely to stick with the team that destroyed Scotland last weekend, despite Billy Vunipola's availability.

Possible Ireland team to face England - R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best (capt), T Furlong; D Ryan, D Toner; CJ Stander, S O'Brien, J Heaslip. Replacements: N Scannell, C Healy, J Ryan, I Henderson, P O'Mahony, K Marmion, P Jackson, J Payne.

Irish Independent

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