Same again for Ireland against England
Starting XV unchanged but Iain Henderson and Jordi Murphy named on the bench
Joe Schmidt has named the starting line-up for Saturday’s Six Nations showdown with England, with the only changes coming on the replacements bench. Iain Henderson comes in for the injured Dan Tuohy while Jordi Murphy is preferred ahead of Tommy O’Donnell for the match at Twickenham.
Brian O’Driscoll trained fully today and, according to Ireland coach Schmidt, suffered no ill effects from Scott Williams’ ferocious tackle a fortnight ago or the bug that had him bedridden earlier this week.
That means the 35-year-old will equal Australia’s legendary scrumhalf George Gregan’s world record of 139 test caps.
O’Driscoll will play his 131st game for Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday and is assisted by eight tests for the British and Irish Lions over four tours.
“You get to that level and he’s allowed his get out of jail free card, to have one training off,” said Schmidt. “He was back training fully today and trained well.”
The only unenforced change sees Leinster’s Murphy come on the bench instead of Munster openside flanker O’Donnell, making the 22-year-old the first of Blackrock College’s excellent 2009 Leinster schools winning crop to be named in an Ireland match day squad.
Leinster centre Brendan Macken, Connacht prop Denis Buckley and Munster winger Andrew Conway remain one rung behind their former captain.
O’Donnell didn’t commit any heinous crimes when arriving off the bench against Wales but Murphy’s versatility appears to have been the difference in what promises to be the most attritional game of the Six Nations.
That and keeping with Schmidt’s policy of continually reviving his squad with fresh blood. The coach also wants to see O’Donnell get game time for Munster over the next fortnight and “we felt this was an opportunity for Jordi to get some time off the bench, possibly.”
Paul O’Connell added: “Jordi’s an incredibly talented player. All his stats show he is very powerful, incredibly fast. He has been playing really well for Leinster and that’s not an easy backrow to break into but he sees to be nudging his way in now. That’s a serious achievement in itself.
“Joe is big into guys coming off the bench and making a big impact. If he does get on I’m sure it will be the first of many caps for him.”
The other change is also on the bench as 21-year-old Iain Henderson replace the injured Tuohy.
The latest in a long line of powerful Ulster second rows – although he is equally proficient on the blindside flank – Henderson has yet to nail down a place in Mark Anscombe’s starting XV but has already won seven caps, six off the bench, including a late arrival against Scotland earlier this month, with his only start coming against the United States in Houston last summer.
Having featured mainly at number eight for Leinster this season, Murphy will provide cover in the event of injury to Jamie Heaslip or Chris Henry, having also played openside at underage. Still, Peter O’Mahony will probably lock the scrum in the highly unlikely event of Heaslip having to come off.
Despite the lack of experience on Ireland’s bench they still have more caps than the English reserves – 95 to 83.
Of the starting XVs, Ireland have a distinct advantage in the experience stakes over their hosts with a backline containing 377 caps to England’s 105 (Danny Care’s 44 tests boosting this figure) while Paul O’Connell’s pack have 347 to just 198 combined caps in Chris Robshaw’s opposing eight.
In fact, Hartley is the only player in Stuart Lancaster’s squad to have breached the half century of appearances.Despite all this, Schmidt agreed that plotting the downfall of England at Twickenham is the greatest challenge of his coaching career.
“I haven’t got a context for it really as I have only coached at club level. Trying to plot the downfall of any New Zealand team is tough. We gave that a bit of go. I think one of the toughest challenges was going away to Bordeaux to beat Clermont in the semi-final a few years ago.
“There are a few that stand out in my mind but none of them are tougher than this.”
The tactics he employs will be fascinating to witness.
* This article was amended at 4.30pm to correct the numbers of caps of certain players
England: M Brown (Harlequins); J Nowell (Exeter), L Burrell (Northampton), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester), J May (Gloucester); O Farrell (Saracens), D Care (Harlequins); J Marler (Harlequins), D Hartley (Northampton), D Wilson (Bath), J Launchbury (Wasps), C Lawes (Northampton), T Wood (Northampton), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), B Vunipola (Saracens).
Replacements: T Youngs (Leicester), M Vunipola (Saracens), H Thomas (Sale), D Attwood (Bath), B Morgan (Gloucester), L Dickson (Northampton), G Ford (Bath), A Goode (Saracens) .
Ireland (v England): R Kearney (Leinster); A Trimble (Ulster), B O’Driscoll (Leinster), G D’Arcy (Leinster), D Kearney (Leinster); J Sexton (Racing-Metro 92), C Murray (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster); D Toner (Leinster), P O’Connell (capt) (Munster); P O’Mahony (Munster), C Henry (Ulster), J Heaslip (Leinster).
Replacements: J McGrath (Leinster), S Cronin (Leinster), M Moore (Leinster), I Henderson (Ulster), J Murphy (Leinster), I Boss (Leinster), P Jackson (Ulster), F McFadden (Leinster).
Referee: C Joubert (South Africa)