England vs Ireland
Hookers Dylan Hartley and Rory Best will captain their respective nations at Twickenham on 27 February Getty

Head coach Eddie Jones takes charge of England at Twickenham for the very first time this weekend as reigning champions Ireland visit in what is arguably the pick of round three's Six Nations fixtures. It is the hosts' first match back on home soil since their dismal effort at the 2015 World Cup.

Where to watch

England vs Ireland kicks off at 4.50pm GMT on 27 February. Live coverage is available on ITV from 2.25pm and on BBC Radio 5 live.


After watching his new team open their Six Nations account with consecutive victories over perennial wooden spoon contenders Scotland and Italy, Jones will be braced for a far more significant test of his credentials this time around. The wily Australian has a habit of speaking his mind and certainly appears to have ruffled a few feathers in the opposition camp with his thoughts on the apparent whiplash injuries suffered by fly-half Johnny Sexton during a brutal defeat to France.

England were frustratingly slow out of the blocks in Rome, although they eventually took advantage of their vastly superior strength in depth and Jonathan Joseph's fine finishing skills to cruise to a 40-9 win. They make two changes to the side for Ireland, with Joe Marler replacing Mako Vunipola at loose-head prop. Lock Joe Launchbury was set to feature before returning to his club for treatment on a hamstring injury and his absence will lead to a first international start for Maro Itoje.

Maro Itoje
Big things are expected of Saracens forward Maro Itoje as he prepares to make his first England start Getty

The 21-year-old Saracens phenom, who Sir Clive Woodward has dubbed a future captain of his country, was handed a second-half cameo against Italy and has clearly established himself ahead of Courtney Lawes in the pecking order. Exciting Wasps centre Elliot Daly is also likely to make his maiden appearance from the bench as Jones reverts back to a five-three split between his replacement forwards and backs.

As for Ireland, the disappointment of allowing a 13-point lead over Wales to slip away during their opening fixture was compounded by an ugly 10-9 loss at the Stade de France that came courtesy of a late Maxime Medard try and all but ended any hope of a third consecutive championship. Les Bleus were fortunate not to have received greater attention from the citing commissioner after subjecting their below-par visitors to a brutally physical brand of rugby that saw Sexton and Dave Kearney both clobbered before half-time.

Although the former is fit to start against England, Kearney has since been ruled out of the rest of the tournament due to a shoulder injury. Flanker Sean O'Brien will face a similar lay-off due to a hamstring tear and Mike McCarthy could miss the remainder of the 2015-16 season due to concussion.

With his injury woes mounting, Schmidt has selected two debutants to face England. Leinster flanker Josh van der Flier replaces O'Brien and Ulster's Stuart McCloskey is handed his chance at 12 after Jared Payne failed to recover from a hamstring issue. Keith Earls takes his place on the left wing. In the pack, experienced tight-head Mike Ross returns at the expense of Nathan White and Donnacha Ryan partners Devin Toner. Cian Healy and Simon Zebo are both back in the matchday squad following knee trouble.

Stuart McCloskey
Stuart McCloskey's inclusion will see Ireland switch Robbie Henshaw to outside centre against England Getty


England: 15. Mike Brown, 14. Anthony Watson, 13. Jonathan Joseph, 12. Owen Farrell, 11. Jack Nowell, 10. George Ford, 9. Ben Youngs; 1. Joe Marler, 2. Dylan Hartley, 3. Dan Cole, 4. Maro Itoje, 5. George Kruis, 6. Chris Robshaw, 7. James Haskell, 8. Billy Vunipola.

Replacements: 16. Jamie George, 17. Mako Vunipola, 18. Paul Hill, 19. Courtney Lawes, 20. Jack Clifford, 21. Danny Care, 22. Elliot Daly, 23. Alex Goode.

Ireland: 15. Rob Kearney, 14. Andrew Trimble, 13. Robbie Henshaw, 12. Stuart McCloskey, 11. Keith Earls, 10. Jonathan Sexton, 9. Conor Murray; 1. Jack McGrath, 2. Rory Best, 3. Mike Ross, 4. Donnacha Ryan, 5. Devin Toner, 6. CJ Stander, 7. Josh van der Flier, 8. Jamie Heaslip.

Replacements: 16. Richard Strauss, 17. Cian Healy, 18. Nathan White, 19. Ultan Dillane, 20. Rhys Ruddock, 21. Eoin Reddan, 22. Ian Madigan, 23. Simon Zebo.

What the coaches say:

Eddie Jones: "Playing our first game at Twickenham after two away fixtures will be huge for us. We're determined to put in a strong performance against a clever Irish side who are the benchmark of European rugby."

On Sexton: "Sexton is an interesting one, they've talked about him having whiplash injury, which is not a great thing to talk about. I'm sure his mother and father would be worried about that. Hopefully, the lad's all right on Saturday to play.

Eddie Jones
Eddie Jones has been accused of playing mind games this week with his comments regarding Ireland's Johnny Sexton Getty

"We target players all the time. That's part of rugby is it not? Is there some sort of special law there? There are 15 players out there. Are we supposed to not run at one player? Hang on, hang on, he's got a red dot on his head, we don't run at him. Rugby's a game of XV players on the field. When we're attacking, we're attacking weak defenders. Why would we run at the strongest defender?

"We are not going to run at their strongest defenders, we'll always run at their weakest. I'm not saying Sexton is a weak defender. Maybe France did. We're going to be targeting players in the Ireland side. We want to win and you win a game of rugby by attacking their weak points and to say that's unfair is just ridiculous."

Joe Schmidt (via BBC Sport): "They [McCloskey and Van der Flier] don't lack for enthusiasm and they are both incredibly excited about the stage they're going to be playing on. Luke has been robust and had a really good season but Stu spent last week training at 12 with us and we felt he might be a little bit more comfortable in there.

"We are all excited by something new. Josh has an opportunity to go and really capture that seven jersey in what will be a really tough test for him. This is a step up that they haven't been to before and you never know how quick it's going to be, how physical it's going to be. That's always a challenge for players coming in for the first time and these guys have been rewarded with the opportunity."