Andy Farrell makes three changes for Ireland’s Grand Slam decider
Ireland trio Ryan Baird, Jamison Gibson-Park and Robbie Henshaw will make their first starts of this year’s Guinness Six Nations in Saturday’s crunch Grand Slam decider against England.
Lock Baird and centre Henshaw replace injured pair Iain Henderson and Garry Ringrose following last week’s bruising 22-7 round-four win away to Scotland.
Scrum-half Gibson-Park came off the bench in Edinburgh and has been preferred to Conor Murray in the only unenforced alteration to Andy Farrell’s starting XV.
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Hooker Dan Sheehan and number eight Caelan Doris have been passed fit following their premature withdrawals amid the Murrayfield mayhem.
But back-up number two Ronan Kelleher, who suffered a recurrence of a shoulder issue against the Scots, has joined Henderson (arm) and Ringrose (head) in being ruled out.
Rob Herring, second-row Kieran Treadwell and versatile back Jimmy O’Brien have been added to the bench.
Ireland will complete their fourth championship clean sweep with victory over an England side thumped 53-10 by France last weekend.
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Fly-half Johnny Sexton will captain the hosts in Dublin as he seeks to celebrate his 60th and final Six Nations outing before retirement by lifting silverware, partnering the recalled Gibson-Park.
Baird, making only his second start in the championship, will line up alongside James Ryan in the second row, behind an unchanged front row of Andrew Porter, Sheehan and Tadhg Furlong.
Reining world player of the year Josh Van Der Flier will win his 50th Ireland cap, joining fellow flanker Peter O’Mahony and the fit-again Doris in the back row.
Bundee Aki and Henshaw, who missed the start of the competition with a wrist injury, are the midfield pairing, with James Lowe, Hugo Keenan and Mack Hansen continuing as head coach Farrell’s back three.
Cian Healy, Tom O’Toole, Jack Conan and Ross Byrne complete the list of replacements.