Elliot Daly has held off the challenge of Mike Brown at full-back after being declared by head coach Eddie Jones as England’s best option in the position.
Daly has started the last seven Tests at 15, but Brown’s expertise under the high ball made him a strong contender to oust his rival for tomorrow’s Guinness Six Nations opener against in Dublin.
Ireland half-backs Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray are two of rugby’s most accomplished kickers and are expected to unleash an aerial bombardment at the Aviva Stadium.
More accustomed to playing outside centre or wing, Daly’s frailty in the air was exposed last autumn, but Jones insists the Wasp retains the confidence of England’s management.
“Elliot’s been our first choice since the South Africa tour and we’re confident he can do a great job,” Jones said.
“We know Mike Brown’s a very good player. He’s not in the matchday squad, but he’s in the 25. We feel that Elliot will do the job for us and he gives us a great attacking game.”
Manu Tuilagi has been selected at inside centre – where he has played little rugby – to make his first Six Nations start in six injury-blighted years after profiting from Ben Te’o’s side strain.
Henry Slade continues at 13, Jack Nowell lines up on the left wing and Owen Farrell resumes his half-back partnership with Ben Youngs.
“I just felt that for this game the best option was to play Owen at 10 and Manu as a like-for-like replacement for Te’o. Manu has impressed us at the training camp and is right to play,” Jones said.
Two weeks ago Jones floated the bold idea of Nowell playing at openside flanker due to his skill at the breakdown and added that he would be willing to pick a ninth forward.
When asked whether Nowell will be involved in the pack, Jones replied: “We’ll wait and see, but he’s been selected on the wing and that’s where he’s going to play.
“It was a tight decision between him and Chris Ashton, who is on the bench. We want to see great work-rate from Jack, that’s what he’s good at.
“He’s good on his feet. If Ireland kick it a lot then there will be a fair bit of kick return and that’s a strength of Jack’s game.”
The only surprise in the pack is the absence of Joe Launchbury, who has recovered from the knee injury that forced him to miss the autumn, but is unable to even win a place on the bench.”
George Kruis is preferred as Maro Itoje’s partner in the second row while prop Mako Vunipola and No 8 Billy Vunipola are back after recovering from their respective calf and arm injuries.
“It is nice to have Mako and Billy back. Mako is obviously a world-class loose head,” said Jones.
“We missed him during the autumn, but he has come back in good nick and really committed to be the best he can be.
“With Billy we haven’t had him for a long time. He’s also in great nick and ready to play well for us.”
Replacement scrum-half Dan Robson is the only uncapped player in the 23, with the starting XV containing a total of 485 caps.
“It’s well documented no one thinks we can win, but I can tell you everyone inside our camp believes we can win. We are hugely looking forward to the weekend,” added Jones.