Ireland Thirteen Jersey Conundrum?

An open training session for Ireland Rugby at the Aviva Stadium, a chance for the supporters and players to meet and greet. A training session which should not have had any consequence saw a massive injury blow as Ireland’s man of the match against Wales Chris Farrell twisted his knee. Pending a scan, it looks like the Munster center’s Natwest 6 Nations tournament is over. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the options available for Joe Schmidt to fill the much coveted thirteen jersey.

Jinxed position?

With injuries to Robbie Henshaw and now the unfortunate training incident with Chris Farrell, some people would think that the thirteen jersey is jinxed. Joe Schmidt has emphasized squad depth and this tournament will certainly reveal the strength in depth in the pivotal back line position. Several candidates have stayed patient in recent weeks and now the injury news today will be vying for a role in the Ireland squad in the last two rounds of the competition.

Ringrose Factor

Gary Ringrose would look to be in pole position to resume in the three quarters. Ringrose has endured a frustrating season; several niggling injuries have prevented the player from getting valuable game minutes. His talent and skill set are undoubted; his cameo against the Southern Kings last week was a timely reminder of what he brings to the table. His ability to create line breaks, his ball carrying ability to create for others also to the fore.

His defensive side has evolved and improved since his debut with Ireland last season. Joe Schmidt will be confident that the player will produce for Ireland against Scotland despite the lack of game minutes in recent months. A player who will provide fresh energy in midfield and I am personally excited to see how Ringrose gels with Aki in the three quarters in March.

Rory Scannell

Scannell is a twelve and if there were unexpected issues with Gary Ringrose not to start against Scotland, Ireland management could decide to move Aki to thirteen and recruit the Munster player at twelve. The player’s versatility is his key asset; his ability to link play and keep opposition off balance are his strengths.

The Cork native processes an excellent kicking game which has helped Ian Keatley enormously this season. Scannell has being part of the national team training squad this season. He knows the system well. Schmidt knows the player and this is another option for Ireland management.

No mention of Keith Earls here as I think Ireland management will keep the Munster player out on the wing where he has impressed this season.

Luke Marshall

The forgotten man of the Ireland setup. Luke Marshall a couple of seasons ago look destined for a lengthy international stay but a series of concussions and injury issues have resulted in the player falling down the pecking order.

What does Luke Marshall bring to the table? Excellent attacking game, good defender and ability to create for others with slick passing. The history of concussions appears to behind the player and I would be very surprised if Luke Marshall does not get the call to join the squad in Carton House this week.

Sam Arnold

Chris Farrell has had an impressive season with Munster Rugby but his season has also seen a couple of injury niggles which provided Sam Arnold an opportunity to stake a claim for the province. The former Ulster Rugby recruit has taken his chance superbly with some eye catching performances.

His line break ability has being excellent, his defensive work and tackling has being on point. Yes, there was that red card against his former employers at the start of the year but this was one negative in a series of promising performances for Munster.

Sam Arnold may not feature in this tournament but I would expect the player to feature in the Australian tour this summer. Arnold looks destined to play a key role for Munster Rugby given this latest injury blow for Chris Farrell. An assignment to negate and dominate Bastareaud in a ERC quarter final will be the task assigned for Arnold.

Connacht Angle

This would be a left field move from Joe Schmidt but two other players who are on the outer fringes of the national squad would be Eoin Griffin and Tom Farrell. Griffin has produced a couple of standout moments in Europe this season and his performance against Benetton Rugby last weekend was on point. Well experienced, Griffin’s ability to learn the Schmidt system would be an intriguing side note.

Tom Farrell has being the standout back line player for Connacht this season. The number twelve can play the thirteen position as well. A player whose ability to find gain line meters has being to the fore this season. Furthermore, his leadership qualities in several provincial and European games means that the player surely is in the thoughts of Ireland management long term (dare I say 2019 RWC!).

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