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Changing locks, Schmidt's bench power and more Ireland team talking points

Meanwhile, it’s all change for England.

JOE SCHMIDT HAS revealed his hand for Saturday’s Six Nations grand finale with England at Twickenham. The Ireland head coach has made one change to his starting XV, and below we take a closer look at his selections. 

Continuity

The Ireland team huddle Ireland trained at their Carton House base for the final time this morning. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With a third Six Nations title in five years wrapped up with a game to spare, Ireland go into Saturday’s St Patrick’s Day showdown with England aiming to complete the Grand Slam for just the third time, having previously managed it in 1948 and 2009.

Unsurprisingly, Schmidt has maintained more than an element of continuity for the round five clash at Twickenham, with the one change to the match day 23 seeing a straight swap in the second row — Iain Henderson is back to replace Devin Toner.

Despite the minor injury concerns over Rob Kearney, Peter O’Mahony and Cian Healy, who all sat out training at various stages during the week, as well as the managed workload of Johnny Sexton, all four have come through as was expected.

It means Ireland will have used just 31 players over the course of this championship, with Schmidt also sticking with the bench that provided a big impact in the win over Scotland last weekend.

Now on a winning run of 11 straight Test victories, continuity in selection has been a key factor in Ireland’s success under Schmidt over the last 18 months and the head coach has been able to retain the core of his side throughout the campaign.

Changing locks

Iain Henderson celebrates winning with Devin Toner and his son Max after the game Trading places: Henderson is back in for Toner. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The main decision facing Schmidt this week was always going to be the make up of his second row and the head coach has returned to the partnership he started the championship with in Paris.

Henderson and Ryan started in the win over France, with Toner on the bench, but then with Ryan sidelined for the second round game against Italy, Toner was promoted to start alongside Henderson.

Then, Henderson suffered a hamstring strain and Ryan was recalled to partner Toner again for the win over Wales, before Schmidt made the big call to retain the pair for last week’s defeat of Scotland.

Fit-again Henderson made a big impact off the bench and Schmidt suggested it was always his intention to bring the Ulster and Lions lock back in for this Grand Slam decider against England.

Henderson’s return to the starting XV for his 38th cap provides Ireland with real power in the engine room and while Toner can consider himself unlucky to miss out, Schmidt’s selection hardly comes a surprise.

The finishers

Jordan Larmour Jordan Larmour is in line to win his third cap. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Jack McGrath, Jordi Murphy and Sean Cronin all provided real energy and impetus at various junctures of the round four win over Scotland and Schmidt has retained the same reserves for Saturday’s Grand Slam tilt.

It means Jordan Larmour has seen off competition from Fergus McFadden for the number 23 jersey, in what could be seen as a bold move from Schmidt given the 20-year-old’s inexperience at Test match level.

Larmour replaced Rob Kearney at fullback for the final five minutes last weekend for his second senior cap and the possibility of the former St Andrew’s man providing the utility back cover at Twickenham is not something many envisaged at the start of the championship.

Larmour and his Leinster team-mate McFadden have alternated throughout the tournament and while the selection of the latter may have been seen as the prescient choice, Schmidt has clearly been impressed by Ireland’s flying wunderkind.

Andrew Porter, Toner, Kieran Marmion and Joey Carbery are the others on the bench and certainly there is real strength among Ireland’s ‘finishers’.

Jones wields the axe

England Media Access England head coach Eddie Jones. Source: David Rogers

After back-to-back defeats to Scotland and France, England head coach Eddie Jones has wielded the axe and made seven changes in personnel for the round five clash in London.

Jones has dropped half-backs Danny Care and George Ford with Owen Farrell switching from centre to out-half and Saracens nine Richard Wigglesworth promoted from the bench.

Former Leinster man Ben Te’o fills the inside centre position vacated by Farrell and forms a midfield duo with Jonathan Joseph after both men had been competing for the same place for most of this tournament.

Up front, fit-again hooker Dylan Hartley returns as captain after missing the defeat in Paris and is one of five changes to England’s pack as they look to deny Ireland a Grand Slam like Schmidt’s men did in Dublin 12 months ago.

Jones has been forced into reshaping the back-row following tournament-ending injuries to Nathan Hughes and Courtney Lawes, with Sam Simmonds, James Haskell and Chris Robshaw making up the back row.

England have won four of the last six meetings between the near neighbours in the Six Nations, with each of the last four games being won by the home side on the day.

Furthermore, under Jones, England have won their last 15 home games in all competition, highlighting the size of the task awaiting Ireland on Saturday.

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Ryan Bailey

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