Henderson to start as Ireland bid for Grand Slam glory
Devin Toner drops to the bench for Saturday’s match against England
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has made one change to the Ireland side for Saturday’s Grand Slam clash with England at Twickenham with Iain Henderson restored to the starting team in place of Devin Toner, who drops to the bench. There are no other changes to the team or in the personnel of the match-day 23 from the Scotland game.
The New Zealander has elected to restore the secondrow partnership that began the tournament as first choice with Henderson and James Ryan starting against France, with Devin Toner on the bench. When Ryan was sidelined through injury, Toner was promoted to partner Henderson in the victory over Italy, with Quinn Roux included in the replacements.
Henderson suffered a slight hamstring strain and was withdrawn at half-time in the win over Italy. He failed to recover for the next match and Ryan was recalled alongside Toner for the win over Wales, with Roux again on the bench.
The Ulster lock was fit again for last week’s game against Scotland, but was named on the bench, with the Toner-Ryan combination retained from the start. Henderson replaced Toner during the second half of the match at the Aviva stadium last weekend.
Ireland have played 11 internationals and counting since the New Zealander retained the same starting team from the France to Wales matches in the 2017 Six Nations. Henderson scored Ireland’s and the game’s only try in a 13-9 victory over England last season.
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Schmidt explained his decision: “It is part of a plan over these two games that we would mix that (secondrow) selection up. We almost did it the other way to be honest because James Ryan had a very big game against Scotland, we thought he might benefit from coming off the bench and getting a little less time but we can still manage that with Dev (Devin Toner) potentially anyway.
“Iain has got a little bit of time under his belt after having a couple of weeks off. We think he has probably progressed a little bit further and is more ready to go.”
On the potential Grand Slam prize that victory would bring to supplement the Six Nations title already accrued, Schmidt said: “There is a sense of anticipation, a sense of nervousness. The magnitude of what it will take to get us over the line is very much uppermost in the thinking.
“At the same time there has been a good opportunity to relax a little bit and recover from what was a pretty intense game against Scotland. It’s a similar rhythm to our week. We probably don’t want to break that rhythm up too much because it has served us so well this far.”
Schmidt admitted that he wasn’t too surprised at the seven changes in personnel made by England coach Eddie Jones. “He’s mixed it up a little bit. The squad is very similar. He’s flipped a few guys from the bench and vice versa. It changes things a little bit.
“At the hub of the game they have got a Saracens combination. Richard Wigglesworth and Owen Farrell are very used to playing with each other and so that smoothes the path for Owen Farrell having to adjust from 12 to 10 because the responsibilities are quite a bit different. Ben Te’o is really well known to us, particularly the Leinster cohort in the team.
“Kyle Sinkler coming in is a bit of a change up; he’s dynamic. That’s a bit of change to the solidity to the strength and experience that Dan Cole brings.”
Ireland: R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best (capt), T Furlong; J Ryan, I Henderson; P O’Mahony, D Leavy, CJ Stander. Replacements: S Cronin, J McGrath, A Porter, D Toner, J Murphy, K Marmion, J Carbery, J Larmour.