England are intending to play Owen Farrell from the start in Saturday’s Six Nations finale against Ireland in Dublin despite suggestions the fly-half may have sustained an ankle injury in training this week. Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade are also set to be reunited in midfield, while Henry Arundell is pushing hard to make a first start on the wing.
Northampton’s David Ribbans is expected to feature in the second row in place of the injured Ollie Chessum as England look to atone for their record 53-10 defeat to France. Should any 11th-hour doubts resurface over Farrell, it is understood Marcus Smith would be the favourite to retain his place, with the latter’s Harlequins team-mate Joe Marchant in line for a bench recall.
An team spokesperson declined to confirm whether or not Farrell was 100% fit but England are clearly desperate for the 31-year-old to be involved. Not only would his absence deprive the team of their squad captain but it would also prevent the Saracen from coming face to face with a grand slam-chasing Ireland side coached by his father, Andy.
If nothing else it is an opportunity for all concerned to bounce back from the French debacle and restore some collective battered pride. Tuilagi has not appeared in the tournament to date but is back from suspension and will fill the gap left by Ollie Lawrence, who has a hamstring injury.
Pairing Tuilagi and Slade offers a nice midfield balance of power and playmaking skills and rekindles memories of four years ago against Ireland, when Eddie Jones’ England enjoyed a fine 32-20 victory over the defending Six Nations champions. That game was Tuilagi’s first championship start since 2013 and stats provided by Sports Lens also suggest Slade and Tuilagi rank among England’s most successful centre pairings, with the duo contributing five tries during that 2019 Six Nations.
England, who will confirm their line-up on Thursday afternoon having travelled over to Dublin, will first need their forwards to provide a more robust platform than was the case against France. Assuming there are no further mishaps, however, the promotion of Ribbans, who is relocating to France to play for Toulon next season, looks set to be the only change to the starting pack. The 20-year-old Arundell, meanwhile, is thought to be in line to start a Test for the first time, in place of Max Malins.