2018 couldn't have gone any better for Joe Schmidt and Ireland. A Grand Slam, a series win in Australia, an unbeaten Autumn including the small matter of a second ever win against the All Blacks. But eaten bread is soon forgotten, and this Saturday, an even bigger year begins for Ireland, a year that will be Joe Schmidt's last in charge of the team.
England coming to Dublin is never a formality for Ireland, and especially not so after they looked resurgent in November, with Eddie Jones getting his mojo back with wins over South Africa and Australia, and an extremely unlucky loss to New Zealand. Ireland are favourites on Saturday afternoon, but there has been tentative leaning towards England in the British press this week, and there's definitely a positive feeling over there ahead of the trip.
But in Joe we trust, and Ireland will have to knocked from their perch. They won't jump off voluntarily. A strong 23 man squad named by the coach today would suggest this team have no intention of going anywhere.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) January 31, 2019
Ireland Team to Play England:
15. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster)
14. Keith Earls (Munster)
13. Garry Ringrose (Leinster)
12. Bundee Aki (Connacht)
11. Jacob Stockdale (Ulster)
10. Johnny Sexton (Leinster)
9. Conor Murray (Munster)
1. Cian Healy (Leinster)
2. Rory Best - Captain (Ulster)
3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster)
4. James Ryan (Leinster)
5. Devin Toner (Leinster)
6. Peter O'Mahony (Munster)
7. Josh Van der Flier (Leinster)
8. CJ Stander (Munster)
Replacements: 16. Sean Cronin (Leinster), 17. Dave Kilcoyne (Munster), 18. Andrew Porter (Leinster), 19. Quinn Roux (Connacht), 20. Sean O'Brien (Leinster), 21. John Cooney (Ulster), 22. Joey Carbery (Munster), 23. Jordan Larmour (Leinster)
Injuries have affected the bench more than the first team ahead of this game you would say. Tadhg Beirne and Iain Henderson both miss out with injury with Connacht's Quinn Roux named on the bench.
Likewise at scrum-half, Conor Murray's deputy has long been a battle between Kieran Marmion and Luke McGrath. With both out, Ulster John Cooney has a massive chance from the bench.
The big choices for the starting fifteen heading into the game appeared to be at full-back, the centre, and at openside flanker. In the end, Joe turned two problems into one by selected, as predicted yesterday, Robbie Henshaw at 15 ahead of Rob Kearney and Jordan Larmour. It means the All Black conquering centre partnership of Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose remains in tact.
At back row, Josh Van der Flier's game time this year was obviously a deciding factor in his selection ahead of Sean O'Brien. There will be excitement too though about O'Brien's place on the bench, where he can make an impact across the backrow.