Farrell calls up Irish old guard in bid to end year on a high
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Dublin (AFP) –
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton returns to partner Conor Murray at half-back as head coach Andy Farrell hopes to end a difficult first year in charge with a morale-boosting win over Scotland on Saturday.
The Irish host the Scots in their Autumn Nations Cup third/fourth place play-off with Farrell's results this year termed 'an average return' by David Nucifora, the IRFU performance director.
Farrell has recalled several stalwarts to the side as he bids to at least end 2020 by preserving his 100% record at home, including a 19-12 win over the Scots in the Six Nations.
Sexton returns after recovering from a hamstring strain which saw him miss the 18-7 loss to England and the scrappy 23-10 win over Georgia last Sunday.
The 35-year-old fly-half will team up with Murray for the 64th time -- including two Tests for the British & Irish Lions -- the latter having got over a dead leg he suffered in the Georgian game.
Sexton and Murray's long history together contrasts to that of Scotland's half-back pairing which sees Jaco van der Walt make his debut at fly-half, partnering Ali Price.
Farrell lines up experienced former Connacht team-mates Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw in the centres, replacing Chris Farrell and Stuart McCloskey.
Flanker Peter O'Mahony and fellow veteran, prop Cian Healy, also return to the starting line-up.
Farrell has used 34 players across the tournament as he seeks to find a core group to take into the Six Nations next year.
There seems certain to be a 35th with Ulster prop Eric O'Sullivan being called up to the replacement bench.
New Zealand-born scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park and his Leinster team-mate Ross Byrne provide back-up for Murray and Sexton on the bench.
Whilst Gibson-Park has been one of Ireland's success stories of the tournament Byrne has a point to prove after poor performances against England and Georgia, when he came on in the second-half for the injured Billy Burns.
Jacob Stockdale; Hugo Keenan, Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw Keith Earls; Johnny Sexton (capt), Conor Murray; Caelan Doris, Peter O'Mahony, CJ Stander; James Ryan, Iain Henderson; Andrew Porter, Rob Herring, Cian Healy
Replacements: Ronan Kelleher, Eric O'Sullivan, John Ryan, Quinn Roux, Josh van der Flier, Jamison Gibson-Park, Ross Byrne, Chris Farrell
Coach: Andy Farrell (ENG)
© 2020 AFP