Sexton back for Ireland at Twickenham

Johnny Sexton
Johnny Sexton revealed this week that he will retire after the 2023 Rugby World Cup
Venue: Twickenham Date: Saturday, 12 March Kick-off: 16:45 GMT
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Radio 5 & follow live text updates on BBC Sport website & app

Johnny Sexton has been restored Ireland’s starting line-up as one of six changes made by Andy Farrell for the trip to Twickenham.

The head coach has placed his trust in experience as he looks for a first win at the home of English rugby since stepping into the role.

Hugo Keenan and Andrew Conway return as center Bundee Aki is preferred to Robbie Henshaw.

Cian Healy starts in the front row while James Ryan comes in at lock.

Ulster skipper Iain Henderson is named among the replacements having missed the win over Italy with Covid-19.

Peter O’Mahony, who captained Ireland against Italy, retains his place in the back row alongside Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris.

Mack Hansen, who started Ireland’s three opening Six Nations fixtures, is not in the squad.

There is also no place for Michael Lowry following his two-try debut as Henshaw takes possession of the number 23 jersey on an experienced bench that includes four British and Irish Lions.

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Ireland: Keenan; Conway, Ringrose, Aki, Lowe; Sexton (capt.), Gibson-Park; Healy, Sheehan, Furlong, Beirne, Ryan; O’Mahony, van der Flier, Doris.

Replacements: Herring, Kilcoyne, Bealham, Henderson, Conan, Murray, Carbery, Henshaw.

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“We’ve said all along that it will be a squad effort and squad togetherness that gets us through this competition,” Farrell said.

“It as put us in a good position. Some tough decisions to make this week but we feel the balance of the team is a good one.”

Sexton, who announced on Tuesday that he will retire at the end of the 2023 World Cupmakes his first start since the opening game of the tournament against Wales.

Having started the two most recent games Joey Carbery must settle for a place on the bench.

Munster wing Conway and Connacht’s Aki were both left out of the Italy game to fully recover from what Farrell described as “niggly injuries”, and have been passed fully fit to reclaim their place in the XV.

Prop Healy comes in as the only enforced change after Andrew Porter was ruled out of the remainder of the tournament with an ankle injury sustained against Italy.

Vice-captain Ryan missed that game with an adductor injury but has trained fully this week and replaces Ryan Baird who misses out altogether with Henderson returning having played a full 80 minutes for Ulster against Cardiff last Friday.

Ireland out to put a ‘bump in the road’ for England

England have won their last two matches having been defeated by Scotland in their opening game.

Like Ireland they remain in the hunt for the title, but both sides know defeat on Saturday will likely end their chances of lifting the trophy.

“They’re building through the competition but we’ve got to put a little bit of a stop to that,” said Farrell.

“That’s our intention, to go over there and prove to ourselves that there’s a performance there in us that’s a step above what we’ve shown already.”

Saturday’s game will be the third time Farrell has taken Ireland to Twickenham since taking over from Joe Schmidt as head coach at the end of the 2019 World Cup.

Both occasions have ended in emphatic defeat, however the Irish won the most recent meeting between the sides at the Aviva Stadium last March.

England head coach Eddie Jones branded Ireland favorites for this weeks game and described them as the world’s “most cohesive” side.

Prop Joe Marler told BBC Radio 5 Live that despite Ireland’s impressive form he did not consider his side the underdogs, particularly given their home advantage.

“He’s never thought of anything other than being a favorite at Twickenham and rightly so,” Farrell replied.

“Their record is very good there so it’s a massive challenge for us. This weekend is something that we’re looking forward to.”

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