Tuilagi, Vunipolas back for England to play Ireland
DUBLIN (AP) — Robbie Henshaw was surprisingly switched to fullback by Ireland against England for their Six Nations opener.
Meanwhile, Manu Tuilagi and the Vunipola brothers were back in the England team and Elliot Daly beat off a challenge from Mike Brown to start against the defending champion on Saturday in Dublin.
Henshaw was moved from the centers on Thursday to start for only the second time at fullback, where he made his test debut in 2013. The switch was triggered because Ireland had depth in midfield, and incumbent fullback Rob Kearney was rusty after recovering only recently from thigh trouble.
Henshaw was only recently over hamstring problems, and coach Joe Schmidt was worried more about Henshaw's fitness than his abilities at fullback, where he started out for Connacht.
Schmidt added Kearney wasn't quite ready to play, and Henshaw has been training at fullback with Ireland for more than six months to broaden their options.
"The greater risk for Robbie is lack of game time, fullstop," Schmidt said.
Henshaw was moved to keep together the midfield of Garry Ringrose and Bundee Aki, who excelled in November in beating New Zealand 16-9.
The only other change to the starting side from the first home win over the All Blacks was the return of star scrumhalf Conor Murray.
Flanker Sean O'Brien, who broke his arm against Argentina and missed the All Blacks test, was in the reserves. Josh van der Flier was starting.
Tuilagi, profiting from an injury to Ben Te'o, will make his first test start for England since June 2014, and first start in the Six Nations in six years. It will be at inside center, though, where he hasn't played a lot following knee, chest, and groin injuries.
The Vunipolas, prop Mako and No. 8 Billy, missed the November series because of injuries, and will appear for the first time since last June on the tour of South Africa.
Daly was retained on Thursday after some doubt. He has been the fullback in the last seven tests but has been in poor form for his Wasps club. His predecessor in the 15 jersey, Brown, has been playing well at club level, and training impressively for England in anticipation of an aerial assault from Ireland in Dublin on Saturday.
But Daly will start with Jonny May and Jack Nowell on the wings after new sensation Joe Cokanasiga was ruled out injured. Brown didn't make the matchday 23. Chris Ashton was the backup.
Dan Robson was the only uncapped player, the reserve to scrumhalf Ben Youngs, who will partner with captain Owen Farrell.
"I just felt for this game the best option was to play Owen Farrell at 10 and Manu as a like-for-like replacement for Ben Te'o," coach Eddie Jones said. "Manu has impressed us at the training camp, and is right to play."
Ireland: Robbie Henshaw, Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale, Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; CJ Stander, Josh van der Flier, Peter O'Mahony, James Ryan, Devin Toner, Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best (captain), Cian Healy. Reserves: Sean Cronin, David Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, Quinn Roux, Sean O'Brien, John Cooney, Joey Carbery, Jordan Larmour.
England: Elliot Daly, Jonny May, Henry Slade, Manu Tuiagi, Jack Nowell, Owen Farrell (captain), Ben Youngs; Billy Vunipola, Tom Curry, Mark Wilson, George Kruis, Maro Itoje, Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola. Reserves: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Harry Williams, Courtney Lawes, Nathan Hughes, Dan Robson, George Ford, Chris Ashton.