DUBLIN (Reuters) - Robbie Henshaw will start his first game for Ireland at fullback since his debut six years ago as Joe Schmidt squeezed arguably his 15 best players into the champions’ lineup for Saturday’s Six Nations opener against England.
Henshaw, who started his career at fullback but has played almost exclusively at centre since joining Leinster in 2016, comes in for Rob Kearney who has been nursing an injury.
The recovery of scrumhalf Conor Murray is the only other change from the side who toppled world champions New Zealand in Dublin in November.
Schmidt said Henshaw had trained regularly at fullback with an eye on the need to have a versatile squad for this year’s World Cup.
“It’s been something that’s been an option for us for quite some time and Rob (Kearney) ran out of time a little bit. It’s probably not as much of a surprise to Robbie and the team as it is to other people,” Schmidt told a news conference.
“More of the risk is probably lack of game time, full stop. He hasn’t actually played that much himself and really we felt that the way he trained, it was worth pursuing, maybe even as a longer term option.”
Henshaw’s inclusion at fullback allowed Schmidt to start Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose together for the first time, rather than having to choose two from Ireland’s three best centres.
In a back row where Ireland enjoy an embarrassment of riches, Josh van der Flier kept the number seven jersey following an outstanding display against the All Blacks, with Sean O’Brien named on the bench on his return from injury.
The world’s second-best ranked side are targeting a fourth Six Nations title in six seasons - a feat last achieved by France over a decade ago - and were given added motivation this week when England’s defence coach John Mitchell said the hosts would try to “bore” them into submission.
“I don’t think for a moment that it’s going to be boring,” Schmidt said.
“I think it’s going to be incredibly exhilarating, it’s going to be edge of the seat because I don’t think there is going to be a hell of a lot between the two teams. I do think people are going to be entertained.”
Team: 15-Robbie Henshaw, 14-Keith Earls, 13-Garry Ringrose, 12-Bundee Aki, 11-Jacob Stockdale, 10-Jonathan Sexton, 9-Conor Murray, 8-CJ Stander, 7-Josh van der Flier, 6-Peter O’Mahony, 5-James Ryan, 4-Devin Toner, 3-Tadhg Furlong, 2-Rory Best (captain), 1-Cian Healy
Replacements: 16-Sean Cronin, 17-Dave Kilcoyne, 18-Andrew Porter, 19-Quinn Roux, 20-Sean O’Brien, 21-John Cooney, 22-Joey Carbery, 23-Jordan Larmour.
Reporting by Padraic Halpin,; Editing by Ed Osmond