6N: England starting Vunipola, Watson; Ireland lose Murray
DUBLIN (AP) England will start No. 8 Billy Vunipola and winger Anthony Watson while Ireland has lost scrumhalf Conor Murray and dropped lock Devin Toner for their Six Nations rugby finale on Saturday.
Vunipola and Watson were the only starting changes to the side which thrashed Scotland 61-21 at Twickenham last weekend to clinch a second straight Six Nations title. Left wing Elliot Daly passed concussion protocols.
England goes for rare successive Grand Slams this weekend.
Vunipola and Watson were substituted in last weekend and scored tries. Nathan Hughes and Jack Nowell were dropped to the reserves on Thursday.
Vunipola will make his first start since November, when he tore cartilage in his right knee. Watson makes his first start for England since the Australia tour in June following a broken jaw and hamstring sprain.
”We are a little bit vulnerable because we have already been crowned champions and we had a big win against Scotland, so for us it’s about getting the right mindset for the game,” coach Eddie Jones said.
Murray suffered a stinger in his left shoulder during Ireland’s 22-9 loss to Wales in Cardiff last week, but because he wasn’t going to be 100 percent for the game, coach Joe Schmidt decided not to risk him.
”If we lost him early in the game, then you’re vulnerable,” Schmidt said on Thursday.
Schmidt added they will miss not only Murray’s experience, but also his calm demeanour on the field, speedy passes, good defense, and top kicking game.
Murray’s replacement, Kieran Marmion, will make his first start in the Six Nations, and second start for Ireland. Jared Payne was another injury-enforced pick for fullback Rob Kearney, who injured his knee in training on Tuesday.
The other change was dropping Toner to summon Iain Henderson. Uncapped Munster back Andrew Conway was also in the reserves.
Ireland: Jared Payne, Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Simon Zebo, Jonathan Sexton, Kieran Marmion; Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien, CJ Stander, Iain Henderson, Donnacha Ryan, Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best (captain), Jack McGrath. Reserves: Niall Scannell, Cian Healy, John Ryan, Devin Toner, Peter O’Mahony, Luke McGrath, Paddy Jackson, Andrew Conway.
England: Mike Brown, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Billy Vunipola, James Haskell, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury, Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley (captain), Joe Marler. Reserves: Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler, Tom Wood, Nathan Hughes, Danny Care, Ben Te’o, Jack Nowell.