Robbie Henshaw has been handed his first start at full-back since making his debut in 2013 as Joe Schmidt named his team to face England in the opening Guinness Six Nations clash on Saturday.

Normally a centre, Henshaw has got the nod over 87 times capped Rob Kearney, who has not done enough to convince Schmidt of his match-sharpness after a lay-off.

All bar one of the former Connacht man's 36 international games have come in the midfield but it is known that he prefers more space to operate in.

"Robbie trained in South Africa, November and last week as full-back," said Schmidt.

"It has been an option for us for some time. We have seen it as an option for quite some time. It may not be such a surprise to us as it is to other people.

"The risk is lack of game-time for Robbie, full-stop. We got to the stage of having a few options there but we just felt that the way he trained, it was worth pursuing, Maybe even as a longer-term option too.

"When you have 31 guys going to a World Cup, you need guys being versatile as well as being a good player. You've always got one eye on different things.

"You have one mind, one focus and that is England. Robbie Henshaw is a good option to play against England and will acquit himself well. It is a short-term focus but it is a long-term hint and he is comfortable with that.

"Rob Kearney ran out of time a little bit and Jordan Larmour offers flexibility from the bench. He finished at 13 against England last season.

"Rob has trained this week, he was a bit slow on Tuesday and continued to get better. We expect him to be okay next week, he has just been a bit rusty."


The rest of the team was named along expected lines, with seven of the eight forwards who started against New Zealand in November back in harness.

The front row is made up of Cian Healy, captain Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong.

Schmidt's second row selection was simplified when Tadhg Beirne and Iain Henderson suffered injuries in the build-up so James Ryan and Devin Toner resumed their partnership.

With Dan Leavy injured, the New Zealander has opted to start with Josh van der Flier at openside. 

Sean O'Brien, who broke his arm against Argentina in November, is on the bench.

"Sean always comes close when he's available," said Schmidt. 

"We want him to be able to get a bit of a feel of the game, have a look at it, and get out there and make the difference that he can."

CJ Stander and Peter O'Mahony make up the rest of the back row.

Conor Murray makes a return to international duty for the first time since the final Test against Australia last summer to take his place at scrum-half, with World Rugby Player of the Year Johnny Sexton at out-half.

Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose are named in the centre, with 2018 Six Nations top try-scorer Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls on the wings.

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Sean Cronin is the replacement hooker, while Dave Kilcoyne and Andrew Porter are the back-up props.

Quinn Roux provides the second row cover.

John Cooney comes in for the injured Luke McGrath, and Joey Carbery and Jordan Larmour cover the rest of the back position.

Ireland: R Henshaw; K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best (capt), T Furlong; D Toner, J Ryan; P O'Mahony, J van der Flier, CJ Stander

Replacements: S Cronin, D Kilcoyne, A Porter, Q Roux, S O'Brien, J Cooney, J Carbery, J Larmour

Follow Ireland v England via our liveblog on RTÉ.ie/sport and the News Now app, or listen to live national radio commentary on RTÉ Radio 1's Saturday Sport.