England have made the first changes of their 2015 RBS 6 Nations campaign after naming Alex Goode and Jack Nowell in their starting XV to face Ireland tomorrow.
Goode slots in at full-back after Mike Brown was ruled out of the pivotal title showdown in Dublin earlier this week with the concussion he sustained during the 47-17 rout of Italy a fortnight ago.
Nowell replaces Jonny May on the left wing for his first cap since making his five previous Test appearances during last year’s Six Nations, ending a near year-long absence due to shoulder and knee injuries.
May scored one of the finest tries seen at Twickenham against New Zealand in November, but he wasted a three-on-one overlap against Italy and his defence has long been a source of concern.
In the third and final adjustment to the match-day 23, tighthead prop Kieran Brookes is withdrawn from the bench after failing to recover from a hip flexor strain, giving Henry Thomas his first chance of the Championship.
“Alex is in good form for Saracens and has been training well over the last few weeks, as has Jack Nowell who is also playing well for Exeter Chiefs,” head coach Stuart Lancaster, the former Leeds boss, said.
“Both have been pushing hard for selection and I’m sure they’ll seize their chance against a high quality Ireland side.”
Losing Brown for a match that is sure to be decisive to the title outcome – England and Ireland are the only unbeaten teams – is a blow to the Six Nations favourites who visit the Aviva Stadium without their most ferocious competitor.
Goode won the last of his 16 caps against Wales 12 months ago, but his most recent start was in the 2013 Championship.
While lacking Brown’s tenacity and physical edge, Goode offers a more rounded playmaking option and frequently fills in at fly-half for Saracens.
“We’ve made minimal changes as we felt the squad performed well in the first two games,” Lancaster said.
“Chris Pennell and Manu Tuilagi will also travel. Manu has been recovering with us and it’s good to keep him connected, while Chris will be a travelling reserve.”
Lancaster had the luxury of naming an unchanged 23 for the victories over Wales, but selects the same pack for a third successive match.
The squad departs for Dublin on Friday night as the countdown to the biggest game of the tournament continues.
Champions Ireland start as marginal favourites to halt English momentum and both sides enter the encounter knowing that victory will offer sight of the title with two rounds remaining.