On the eve of Ireland Rugby team selection for the Italian fixture, it will be interesting to see what Joe Schmidt and management decide in terms of providing continuity while attempting to run the rule over certain players in specific positions. Hawkeye Sidekick tries to preempt (if you can Joe Schmidt) the team selection.
Rob Kearney yet again showed his worth for Ireland with an assured full back performance against Scotland. The key question now is whether Joe Schmidt decides to retain Kearney in the position or does he look to either (a) retry the Robbie Henshaw full back experiment or (b) look to the likes of Jordan Larmour or Andrew Conway to show their worth. I suspect that Henshaw may get further game time at fifteen; it is realistically the fixture to give the Leinster Rugby player another opportunity in the position without having adverse impact.
Back Three Makeup:
If the decision is to go with Robbie Henshaw, then Schmidt will immediately look to retain Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls on the wings for continuity. It would be perceived a risk by management to change all back three positions given the potential for cohesion issues on both sides of the ball. The hope is that Larmour or Conway secure valuable game time in this test match; suspect that one of the players will get that game time and it will be probably Jordan Larmour.
Bundee Aki should see more game time action at twelve. The question mark is whether Chris Farrell is fully fit to take his place at thirteen. Farrell has had issues with his leg / knee in recent weeks but given the team bulletin today, it looks like Chris Farrell will fill the thirteen channel. Abrasive ball carrying the order of the day.
Half Back Partnership:
Joey Carbery is primed for the ten jersey to build on his performance last time out against Scotland. After a nervy opening cameo, Carbery produced a strong second half performance which saw the pivotal gain line break for Earls to score the game winning try. Carbery needs game time ahead of RWC 2019 and will get it during this test match.
The scrum half option debate is interesting but I suspect that Conor Murray will start the contest to provide experience and leadership. There have been differing viewpoints on Murray in this tournament; think he is the victim of his own brilliance and world class high standards. There have been kicking inaccuracies but his overall play has been on point for me.
The hope is that John Cooney will get more than the customary three minute cameo at the death to provide further game tape for Joe Schmidt and management to evaluate the Ulster Rugby player.
The unit went well in Murrayfield with the scrum particularly impressive. The Italian scrum looks vulnerable and it could be a cast of switching up front row personnel for this test match. Dave Kilcoyne and Sean Cronin for me should get the nod. Kilcoyne’s all round play has elevated to new levels this season while Sean Cronin has become a try scoring machine for Leinster Rugby. Tadhg Furlong should potentially start to provide some consistency in the front row. John Ryan’s impressive form should see additional game time this weekend.
James Ryan will start this test match. The Leinster Rugby lock has been a standout again during this campaign. The intriguing team selection is who partners Ryan. I think Quinn Roux has to be given more time considering his performance against Scotland in round two. With Tadhg Beirne just back in training after his knee injury, Iain Henderson is available if there are issues in the set piece.
I think it is fair to say that there will be minimum changes to this unit given their performance last time out. O’Mahony potentially may be the player to be rested for this fixture with the likes of Jordi Murphy desperately looking for game time. Jack Conan and Sean O’Brien will surely get the nod for this game and considering the absence of Sergio Parisse in the Italian back row, the Ireland back row unit will be keen to assert their dominance early and set the breakdown platform.
Potential Starting Lineup:
15. Robbie Henshaw
14. Keith Earls
13. Chris Farrell
12. Bundee Aki
11. Jacob Stockdale
10. Joey Carbery
9. Conor Murray
8. Jack Conan
7. Sean O’Brien
6. Jordi Murphy
5. James Ryan
4. Quinn Roux
3. Tadhg Furlong
2. Sean Cronin