England v Ireland: Hugo Keenan restored at fullback as James Ryan is ruled out of rest of Six Nations

Ciarán Frawley’s versatility has been preferred to the more proven international pedigree of Garry Ringrose in the replacements

Hugo Keenan has been restored at fullback for Ireland’s Guinness Six Nations game against England at Twickenham on Saturday (kick-off 4.45pm). Alas for James Ryan, his less than wonderful Championship is over and a cloud also hangs over his post-Six Nations fitness for Leinster after he suffered a freakish bicep injury in training.

Keenan’s return is the only changes to the starting XV from the 31-7 win over Wales, with Ciarán Frawley reverting to the number 23 jersey he wore in the opening win over France in Marseille before marking his full Test debut with a try against the Welsh when deputising for Keenan.

Frawley’s versatility has been preferred to the more proven international pedigree of Garry Ringrose, who misses out although recovered from the shoulder injury which ruled him out of the opening three wins, in part because of the reversion to a 6-2 split on the bench. Ringrose has still travelled to London with the rest of the squad.

Ryan would have been among the replacements again but Andy Farrell revealed: “He got injured yesterday in training. Just a freak accident really, just a reaction, reaching out for a tackle that was non-contact and he’s injured his bicep. He won’t be available for the remainder of this Six Nations.”


The extent of his injury remains to be clarified, but if it transpires that Ryan has suffered a torn bicep then he could be sidelined for up to three months, as was the case when Ross Byrne sustained a torn bicep after the World Cup.

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Admittedly, it says something about Ireland’s secondrow stocks that they can call upon the experienced 32-year-old Ulster captain Iain Henderson for what will be his 81st cap.

The third and last change on the bench sees Finlay Bealham recalled to his customary position as tighthead backup ahead of Oli Jager, who made his Test debut as a replacement against Wales, and has some “niggle” in his knee according to the head coach.

That win over Wales was only the fifth Test out of Ireland’s last 37 games going back to February 2021 which the resilient Keenan has missed.

“I think it would be a boost for any side in world rugby,” said Farrell regarding Keenan’s return.

“He’s a world-class fullback. It’s testament to him and it’s no shock to us that he’s been able to get himself back to this position to be involved this weekend as he’s been unbelievably diligent over the last few weeks to make that happen.”

It is also a reflection of Ireland’s relative wellbeing and strength in depth that despite so much credit in the bank, no place in the squad can be found for Ringrose.

“He’s fit and he’s well, he’s trained all week. He’s done all the contact work necessary to be available. It’s just circumstances. Garry knows exactly,” said Farrell.

“I had a chat with him yesterday and he was smiling in the fact that it’s just circumstances. He knows what I think about him as a rugby player and his comment to me was that he’s been on the good side of circumstances so many times as a player as well, so he understands.”

The “circumstances” arise from Farrell’s conversion to a 6-2 configuration on the bench, something first employed against France and restored to telling effect in the win over Wales.

“It’s where the squad is at, where the individuals within the squad are at and what benefits us against the opponent but more importantly what’s best for Ireland. So, we take each game on merit and who’s fit and who’s not.”

It looks a good fit for this match as well, and not unreasonably it was put to Farrell that Ireland’s attacking rhythm somewhat stalled in the last two Championship meetings with England, despite the 32-15 win in Twickenham two seasons ago and 29-16 victory which sealed the Grand Slam at the Aviva Stadium on St Patrick’s Day. In each game, England were reduced to 14 men by red cards for lock Charlie Ewels and fullback Freddie Steward.

“I’m not Mystic Meg, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Farrell. “England had a say in how we performed that day. You take every game on its own course really and judge it, and England did very well at slowing us down last year.

“There were a lot of stoppages within the game and it wasn’t just errors, the game was slow. Whether that’s a tactic of theirs or not, I don’t know, but we’ll have to expect more of the same I would have thought.

“We’ll take each minute as it comes, that’s the nature of the game. That was a year ago, and then we go back a couple of weeks against Wales, we want to do better then as well, so that’s always going to be the case.”

Ireland team to play England: Hugo Keenan (Leinster); Calvin Nash (Munster), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster), Bundee Aki (Connacht), James Lowe (Leinster); Jack Crowley (Munster), Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster); Andrew Porter (Leinster), Dan Sheehan (Leinster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster); Joe McCarthy (Leinster), Tadhg Beirne (Munster); Peter O’Mahony (Munster, capt), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Caealan Doris (Leinster). Replacements: Rónan Kelleher (Leinster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Finlay Bealham (Connacht), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Ryan Baird (Leinster), Jack Conan (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster), Ciarán Frawley (Leinster).

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times