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Van der Flier set for Ireland's seven shirt as Henshaw lined up for 15

Ireland kick-off their Six Nations campaign with a massive clash against England on Saturday.

JOSH VAN DER Flier is set to wear Ireland’s number seven shirt for Saturday’s Six Nations opener against England at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

The return of his Leinster team-mate Sean O’Brien from injury and the form of Jordi Murphy with Ulster have provided Joe Schmidt with several options at openside even without the injured Dan Leavy, but it appears van der Flier will start.

Andrew Porter, Josh van der Flier and Garry Ringrose celebrate after the game Van der Flier is in superb form. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Van der Flier has had a superb season for Leinster, while also starting and impressing in Ireland’s November Test wins over Italy and the All Blacks.

Meanwhile, Schmidt is set to take something of a calculated risk by selecting Robbie Henshaw at fullback for the clash with England.

Leinster man Henshaw made his Ireland debut in the 15 shirt back in 2013 but has played in midfield under Schmidt ever since.

He did initially burst through with Connacht as a fullback and has always held a strong fondness for the position, enjoying the relative attacking space afforded there in comparison with inside centre.

Henshaw most recently played fullback in Leinster’s Pro14 clash with Benetton in October of last year, shifting there from midfield after an injury to Rob Kearney.

Henshaw has, however, run training reps at fullback several times with Ireland in recent years and spent last week’s camp in Portugal getting further up to speed with the demands of the position.

Kearney has had an injury-stunted season and was not at his best when returning to the 15 shirt for Leinster last weekend against Scarlets in the Pro14.

Robbie Henshaw Henshaw is set for a shock switch to 15. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Selecting Henshaw at fullback would also ensure Schmidt could get Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose into Ireland’s midfield slots against England, with both those men having become key figures.

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Otherwise, Schmidt is expected to name a settled Ireland team with Cian Healy, captain Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong likely to continue in the front row.

Injuries to Tadhg Beirne and Iain Henderson have simplified the second row picture, with Devin Toner and James Ryan set to start, while Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander are in line to join van der Flier in the back row.

Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton are expected to lead the team from the halfback slots, while Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale should continue as the first-choice wing pairing.

Ireland’s bench selection will be of interest as always, with Ultan Dillane and Quinn Roux vying to provide second row cover. Scrum-half John Cooney is in line to back up Murray.

Schmidt is due to officially name his matchday 23 tomorrow afternoon.

Possible Ireland team:

15. Robbie Henshaw
14. Keith Earls
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Bundee Aki
11. Jacob Stockdale
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray

1. Cian Healy
2. Rory Best (captain)
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Devin Toner
5. James Ryan
6. Peter O’Mahony
7. Josh van der Flier
8. CJ Stander

- Originally published at 13.00


Join us to preview the Six Nations with Simon Zebo, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey on Thursday @7pm in Liberty Hall Theatre Dublin.

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