Jacob Stockdale and Bundee Aki recalled as Ireland ring changes for England

Ed Elliot, PA
·3-min read

Ireland pair Jacob Stockdale and Bundee Aki will make their first appearances of the 2021 Guinness Six Nations as part of six personnel changes for Saturday’s finale against England.

Ulster wing Stockdale has been selected ahead of the misfiring James Lowe on the left flank having fully recovered from a knee problem, while Aki will replace injured centre Garry Ringrose.

Scrum-half Conor Murray, prop Dave Kilcoyne, and back-rows Josh Van Der Flier and Jack Conan have also been recalled by head coach Andy Farrell for the weekend clash in Dublin.

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Conan, who has not started a Test since September 2019, will play at number eight, meaning CJ Stander will play what is set to be his 51st and final game for Ireland at blindside flanker after the shock news of his impending retirement was announced on Tuesday, with Van Der Flier in for the injured Will Connors at openside.

The in-form Tadhg Beirne has been pushed forward from number six to take the second-row spot vacated by head injury victim James Ryan and will pack down alongside Iain Henderson.

Flanker Peter O’Mahony must wait on the bench for his opportunity having completed a three-game ban following his red card in the opening-weekend defeat to Wales.

CJ Stander, left, is preparing for his final Ireland game
CJ Stander, left, announced this week that he will be retiring from rugby this summer (Jane Barlow/PA)

Meanwhile, Murray – an unused substitute in Sunday’s 27-24 win over Scotland – has reclaimed the number nine jersey from Jamison Gibson-Park to feature for the first time since the Cardiff loss following a hamstring issue, while Kilcoyne has been preferred to the benched Cian Healy in the front row.

Ireland are seeking a first win over Eddie Jones’ men since their Grand Slam glory of three years ago in a bid to cement second spot at the end of an underwhelming campaign.

Farrell’s side bounced back from successive defeats to Championship-chasing sides Wales and France with wins over Italy and Scotland.

Conor Murray, right, has been recalled but Peter O'Mahony, left, must wait on the bench (/PA)
Conor Murray, right, has been recalled but Peter O’Mahony, left, must wait on the bench ( Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)

The Irish build-up to the game has been dominated by the unexpected news that South African-born Stander, who will turn 31 early next month, intends to hang up his boots in the summer following possible involvement in the British and Irish Lions tour of his native country.

New Zealand-born wideman Lowe has been dropped from the squad completely on the back of his defensive difficulties in Edinburgh, resulting in the recall of 2018 player of the tournament Stockdale.

Stockdale has not performed on the wing for his country since last February’s pre-pandemic defeat at Twickenham, finishing the 2020 Six Nations and playing the Autumn Nations Cup at full-back.

Kilcoyne joins Rob Herring and Tadhg Furlong at the front of the pack, ahead of locks Beirne and Henderson and back-row trio Stander, Conan and Van Der Flier.

New Zealand-born wing James Lowe, right, has been dropped by Ireland for the first time since qualifying under residency rules last year
New Zealand-born wing James Lowe, right, has been dropped by Ireland for the first time since qualifying under residency rules last year (Brian Lawless/PA)

Flanker Connors has impressed in recent weeks but was ruled out on Thursday by a knee injury suffered in training.

Captain Johnny Sexton wins his 99th Ireland cap, resuming his long-term half-back partnership with Munster man Murray, with Robbie Henshaw shifting to outside centre to accommodate Aki after Ringrose sustained an ankle injury at Murrayfield last weekend.

Aki started each of Ireland’s Six Nations games last year but has not featured in a matchday squad this year,.

Full-back Hugo Keenan and right wing Keith Earls retain their spots, with Healy, O’Mahony and Gibson-Park joined on the bench by Ronan Kelleher, Andrew Porter, Ryan Baird, Billy Burns and Jordan Larmour.