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six nations Andy Farrell backs new-look Ireland side to give CJ Stander the perfect send-off against England


 Ireland will be hoping they can provide a fitting send-off with victory over England for the retiring CJ Stander

Ireland will be hoping they can provide a fitting send-off with victory over England for the retiring CJ Stander

Ireland will be hoping they can provide a fitting send-off with victory over England for the retiring CJ Stander

Andy Farrell sprung a host of surprises with the team announcement, but the Ireland coach is sure that the much-changed side will deliver a performance against England at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

With six personnel changes and three positional switches, there is a completely new look to the side that beat Scotland last weekend.

Three of those changes are enforced with Will Connors picking up a worrying knee injury to join Garry Ringrose (ankle) and James Ryan (head) on the sidelines, while Farrell has made three unenforced changes in an attempt to finish the tournament on a high against his former side.

Jacob Stockdale replaces James Lowe who is dropped from the squad altogether, while Conor Murray replaces Jamison Gibson-Park and Dave Kilcoyne comes in for Cian Healy. Bundee Aki replaces Ringrose, while Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan are in for Ryan and Connors.

Aki’s return means Robbie Henshaw moves to the No 13 channel, while the absence of Ryan sees the in-form Tadhg Beirne switch to the second-row with CJ Stander moving to the blindside to accommodate the Leinster pair on his final match for Ireland ahead of his retirement this summer.


Andy Farrell has recalled Conor Murray to the Ireland team

Andy Farrell has recalled Conor Murray to the Ireland team

Andy Farrell has recalled Conor Murray to the Ireland team

And Farrell wants the team to send him off on a high note on his 52nd international cap.

“If we need any more emotion to go into an England game, the last game of the competition, then we're in the wrong place anyway,” he said.

"What we do want to do is enjoy the week for CJ, with CJ and make sure we put in a performance that he's happy to sign off his Ireland career on.

"He's been fantastic, he's been himself. He's in a great mood. He is making sure that he's going to enjoy this week and we're all going to be with him on that."

Farrell revealed that he knew of Stander’s decision to turn down the IRFU’s offer of a contract and return to South Africa “six or seven weeks” ago before informing the players on Monday night.

"Well, it was CJ's choice as well obviously,” he said.

"We've known for a few weeks, he made his decision six or seven weeks ago and he's in a great mood and I'm absolutely made up for him to be honest.

"He's very content with his decision, very happy and when you put all that in context we're happy for him as well.

"He's in great spirits, because he has known for some time. He's known to himself that this will be his last Six Nations, so he's had a few games under his belt knowing that it was coming to the end.”

Asked about the timing of the announcement in the week of such a big match, Farrell said it was Stander’s decision to tell his squad-mates in person.

"It is what it is. CJ deserves the right to speak to the players, he wants to tell them first hand rather than second hand,” he said.

"He doesn't want to leave Ireland camp with the news that he already knows and not have the chance to address the group."

Farrell resisted any urge to recall Peter O’Mahony to the team.

"Josh has been unlucky not to start a few more games than what he has because he's in great form himself,” he said of the starting back-row.

"When you tell a player that he's not playing, sometimes you get a reaction in training and you go 'Jeez, I wish I had have picked him' and Josh has been brimming like that for a good few weeks.

"It's like for like there, coming in.

“CJ will 100pc just be himself, he's never any different. He's the most consistent player week in, week out.

"Jack adds something different, doesn't he? A bit of dynamism at the back of the scrum. He's in great form coming back from injury, he'll be brimming to make a statement to say that he's back on the international scene."

One of the success stories of the tournament, Leinster fans will be anxiously awaiting news on Connors with a busy fixture schedule ahead.

"He's unbelievably unfortunate, Will. He's had a great tournament and he's really progressed,” Farrell said.

"Again, he's young in terms of international rugby but he is certainly on an upward curve.

"It was something of nothing, at the end of training. He was doing some extras at the end of training, he came down in an awkward position on his knee.

"He's being assessed but he was ruled out straight away, within a few hours, by our medics. He'll have some more checks in the coming days, I'm sure, he's back home with Leinster."

On the decision to drop Lowe and recall Stockdale who is just back from a knee problem himself, Farrell said the Kiwi winger would learn from his difficult campaign and come back stronger.

And he said Murray’s experience will be of huge benefit on Saturday.

“Conor has another week behind him, training-wise - so he's fresh and fit and raring to go,” he said.

"He's a big game player.

"With James, there's obviously a few things that we've talked about over the series really, over the Six Nations.

"He's very young in terms of international experience is concerned, he's learnt a lot in this Six Nations and we're looking forward to him progressing in the big games for Leinster in the coming weeks.

"We all know how dangerous Jacob is, he makes things happen doesn't he?

"He's been out injured, he's lost a bit of weight, he looks really sharp. He's had a good few games behind him now, so he's ready to go.

"He gives us that left-foot option as well, as did James."

Speaking of the front-row call, Farrell said it was important to freshen up the tight-five.

"Dave Kilcoyne has been great. Obviously, he hasn't had that much game-time, but he's been great in training. His set-piece has been going really well and we all know that a six--day turnaround is a big thing in international rugby with less time to recover,” he said.

"There was always a little bit of thinking like that in the back of the mind."

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