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Ireland bring in Fitzgerald, Healy for Six Nations finale

After Wales scuppered Ireland’s Grand Slam hopes by ending their unbeaten run last week, Joe Schmidt’s men narrowly fell behind England in the standings with a points difference of plus 33 compared to England’s plus 37.


With England up against France in the last match of the ‘Super Saturday’ finale, Ireland want to set their rivals a sizable target and also recalled fit again prop Cian Healy in the only other change to the team that started in Cardiff.

“It has been a very long road back for Luke after a number of injuries but he has an exuberance and positivity that makes it difficult to keep Luke down for long periods,” Schmidt told a news conference.

“That resilience is something we’ll need on Saturday, I think Scotland has named a particularly good side, a really balanced side and I think there is a bit of desperation in both teams which will make for a really combative test match.”

Fitzgerald, an ever present in the Grand Slam winning side of 2009, went on to be a test match starter for the British and Irish Lions later that year at the age of 21 but has been beset by injury in recent years.

He last started for Ireland in a World Cup warm up game almost four years ago and last featured in a test match in Ireland’s narrow defeat to New Zealand in November 2013.

Fitzgerald has started every major match for Leinster over the last five months and replaces Munster winger Simon Zebo who drops out of the match day squad after Schmidt said he was showing a bit of wear and tear.

With Wales first up against Italy on Saturday and still in contention for the title if they can win by a wide margin, Schmidt warned that his players cannot be distracted by the other games.

He expected a tough outing against Vern Cotter’s Scotland.

“The one thing I would do is throw a word of caution around trying to chase anything other than getting our nose in front of Scotland,” said Schmidt, who began his coaching career in Europe at Clermont Auvergne with fellow Kiwi Cotter.

“It’s going to be a heck of a Saturday.”

Ireland: 15-Rob Kearney, 14-Tommy Bowe, 13-Jared Payne, 12-Robbie Henshaw, 11-Luke Fitzgerald, 10-Jonathan Sexton, 9-Conor Murray, 8-Jamie Heaslip, 7-Sean O’Brien, 6-Peter O’Mahony, 5-Paul O’Connell (captain), 4-Devin Toner, 3-Mike Ross, 2-Rory Best, 1-Cian Healy.

Replacements: 16-Sean Cronin, 17-Jack McGrath, 18-Martin Moore, 19-Iain Henderson, 20-Jordi Murphy, 21-Eoin Reddan, 22-Ian Madigan, 23-Felix Jones.

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin, editing by Alan Baldwin)