DUBLIN, March 8 (Reuters) - Ireland welcomed back prop Tadhg Furlong and were able to call on centre Garry Ringrose for the first time in nine months as coach Joe Schmidt named his side for Saturday’s Six Nations clash with Scotland.
Furlong missed the 37-27 victory over Wales last time out alongside fellow British and Irish Lion forward Iain Henderson.
Henderson, although fully fit, was unable to dislodge Devon Toner as Schmidt stuck with the same second row partnership for Saturday’s clash that could move them one step away from a grand slam.
“I think the three of them have done very well for us in the championship so far and it was probably just a case of trying to keep a bit of continuity,” Schmidt said, referring to competition between Henderson, Toner and 21-year-old James Ryan.
“It also potentially adds a bit to our last 30, 20 minutes of the game where an athlete like Iain can come on, alongside guys like Andrew Porter and Jack McGrath. We’re hoping those guys can bring some real energy into the last quarter.”
Ringrose’s return from shoulder and ankle injuries is well timed after Ireland first lost fellow Leinster centre Robbie Henshaw for the rest of the tournament, followed by his initial replacement Chris Farrell, who was man of the match against the Welsh.
The quick-footed 23-year-old centre played every minute of last year’s Six Nations and brings a different kind of attacking edge to the physical threat Farrell introduced so effectively in Ireland’s third victory of the campaign.
Ringrose has only featured in six games for Leinster this season but looked sharp in a 50-minute run out two weeks ago and Schmidt said he was hopeful such a smart player can hit the ground running on his international return.
“He was extraordinary when he played last year,” Ireland fullback Rob Kearney added. “He’s a smart guy, he’s trained very well this week so certainly from the other 14 guys, there’s absolutely no worries and we’re really excited to have him back.”
After Scotland’s sensational victory over England last time out, Ireland are five points clear of Eddie Jones’ Six Nations champions at the top of the table.
Victory over Scotland, who are a point behind England in third, would leave Ireland 80 minutes from a clean sweep and set up a St Patrick’s Day trip to Twickenham to complete what would be only their third ever grand slam.
15-Rob Kearney, 14-Keith Earls, 13-Garry Ringrose, 12-Bundee Aki, 11-Jacob Stockdale, 10-Johnny Sexton, 9-Conor Murray; 8-CJ Stander, 7-Dan Leavy, 6-Peter O’Mahony, 5-Devin Toner, 4-James Ryan, 3-Tadhg Furlong, 2-Rory Best (captain), 1-Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16-Sean Cronin, 17-Jack McGrath, 18-Andrew Porter, 19-Iain Henderson , 20-Jordi Murphy, 21-Kieran Marmion, 22-Joey Carbery, 23-Jordan Larmour. (Reporting by Padraic Halpin Editing by Toby Davis)