An interesting couple of days beckon for the Ireland Rugby squad and supporters to see who will start against the French. Jacques Brunel has named an unchanged side (surprise, surprise) for this test match so all focus is on Joe Schmidt and Ireland Rugby management on who gets recalls, who gets another chance to impress. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the potential team selection calls ahead of Friday’s team announcement.
Despite the good performance of Dave Kilcoyne in Rome, Cian Healy will slot back into the front row for this test match. His experience will be required for what looks a tricky opening quarter against a hefty French pack. Healy’s work rate early should set the stage for Kilcoyne to make the required impact off the bench in the third quarter.
Rory Best is locked on to be the hooker this weekend after the mixed performance of his backups in round three. Line out misfires, penalty concessions by both hookers on duty in Rome means that Rory Best will seamlessly return to the side. The question is who will fill the back up hooker sub bench place; it is a toss up between Niall Scannell and Sean Cronin. Scannell may be the solid option for Ireland in the line out execution and may just have the nod.
The other front row position will be filled by Tadhg Furlong. The Wexford man’s performances have been solid in all facets of play and Ireland will hope for the player to impress at scrum time along with Cian Healy. The key question here is the bench and who gets the nod? Andrew Porter or John Ryan are the viable options. It is another 50/50 call for Joe Schmidt to make as both players have played well in recent months.
James Ryan should come back into the test match starting lineup. His work rate, physicality and athletism are sensational. His ability to manage the maul will be required in this test match both from an attacking and defensive perspective.
The big question is who will partner the Leinster Rugby second row for this fixture. Quinn Roux had a mixed day at the office in round three; the malfunctions in the line out means that the door is a jar for Iain Henderson to earn a recall. This is a huge test match fixture for Ireland in the context of RWC 2019 preparations and suspect that Henderson will get the nod given how the line out set piece spiraled out of control in Rome.
Quinn Roux and Sean Cronin in particular from the pack face an anxious wait on whether they are even in the match day squad. Tadhg Beirne’s sensational form with Munster Rugby means that Roux is under pressure to keep his squad berth. Intriguing selection poser for Ireland management on the five position.
It is fair to say that the Jordi Murphy eight experiment failed to get off the ground against Italy in Rome. CJ Stander if fit and raring to go should get the nod. Murphy and Conan potentially have minimal time now to impress Ireland management in the back row given Wales in the last round looks like a titanic tussle already.
The other back row positions should be filled by Peter O’Mahony and potentially Josh van der Flier whose mobility, tackle count and ability to create breakdown opportunities for himself and others could sway the decision. O’Brien as an impact sub in the third quarter looks likely here, need abrasive ball carrying options off the bench to test the French defensive line who have shown vulnerability in the second half of games.
The usual suspects will get the nod and hope that the players around them assist in providing faster ruck ball in which to work with. The ball presentation for Murray has to improve; the body positions of Ireland players at ruck time has been poor at times thus resulting in Murray having to delay his delivery of pass to Sexton.
Sexton and Murray will look to ask serious questions of the French back three in the kicking game which has been inconsistent in recent rounds. I sense that we will see a far more improved performance from the unit. The bench options are intriguing. Is Joey Carbery fit or not? Contrary reports in recent days. Does Jack Carty get another opportunity off the bench? Quite simply, if Carbery is not 100%, don’t play him and Carty instead.
If Bundee Aki passes his HIA return to playing protocols, then he should slot back into the twelve channel to renew his partnership with Garry Ringrose who should return from injury. There is a nice balance in this unit. The abrasiveness of Aki with the subtle movement and skill set of Ringrose. Chris Farrell did little wrong against Italy but Ringrose is fresh and raring to go here and Ireland management will not hesitate to select the Leinster Rugby star.
Familiarity breeds contempt and the back three should be Rob Kearney (full back) with Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale on the wings. Kearney is the trusted, reliable go to for the full back berth and for the French test match, Ireland management will not have had to think much on the full back berth. Kearney is probably one of the first names on the team; his absence exposed in the England loss.
Earls and Stockdale will hope that Ireland can provide quicker ruck ball to impress. Both players have shown flair in attacking play but also shown vulnerabilities in defensive and aerial kicking duties. It is questionable whether France will seriously test these players in the kicking game defensively but they will be asked defensive questions when France are in full flow in the opening period.
Front Row: Healy, Best, Furlong
Second Row: Ryan, Henderson
Back Row: Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander
Half Backs: Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton
Three Quarters: Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose
Wings: Keith Earls, Jacob Stockdale
Full Back: Rob Kearney
Pack: Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Andrew Porter, Tadhg Beirne, Sean O’Brien,
Half Back / Back Options: John Cooney, Jack Carty and Andrew Conway (if Jordan Larmour is unavailable for selection)