Hawkeye Sidekick

Precious little surprises in Ireland team ahead of Welsh test

Murray keeps starting berth

The press exclusives were already out in the Irish sporting domain well before the 2pm team announcement. No surprises in the squad lineup. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the squad selection.

Changes expected

The main news headline reel from this Ireland side is the expected return of Robbie Henshaw and Peter O’Mahony instead of injured Garry Ringrose and Caelan Doris who is undergoing HIA protocols after a bitterly disappointing early withdrawal last weekend.

Both players coming into the starting lineup delivered good cameos against Scotland. O’Mahony’s work rate and physicality on point. Henshaw looked bright with ball in hand and produced some nice kicks in behind the Scottish defense that created field position.

No argument on the inclusions and Keith Earls comes onto the bench to provide back line cover. The Limerick native will be eager to impress if given game minutes this weekend. The subs bench looks strong and it will be required against a strong Welsh side who will come to Dublin brimming with confidence.

Scrum Half conundrum

Conor Murray retains his starting berth. Social media will disagree with the selection but I can see where Andy Farrell is going with this selection. Half back continuity against an excellent opponent. Last weekend was a tricky fixture against Scotland, ruck ball was messy and Scotland did a good job slowing ball down sufficiently.

Murray tried to mix up his game in the opening quarter, looking to snip around the fringes but as the game wore on, the predictable box kicking game emerged with mixed results. The kicks were fine but questions on the Ireland chase on some of these kicks, improvement definitely required on the training paddock.

The advocates of John Cooney are growing frustrated. Cooney got twenty minutes to impress last weekend in a situation where Scotland were the team on the ascendancy. No genuine opportunities to launch attacks, work rate was good. Cooney will look to impress further this weekend and beyond.

Andy Farrell has thrown his support to Conor Murray but another misfiring Ireland attacking performance may see changes and if that happens, Cooney will be primed for inclusion.

What to expect on Saturday?

Different head coaches but the two sides know each other inside out. Wales are brimming with confidence ahead of this test match. 42-0 thumping of Italy last weekend saw glimpses of the Pivac attacking game plan.

Tompkins cameo was very impressive. Adams’ game smarts to the fore, great tries and his ability to read the game and executing superb running lines is a joy to watch.

Are Wales battle hardened sufficiently heading into this test match? Italy barely tested the Welsh defense all game and their kick game fell well short of the standards expected at this level.

The back row battle is going to be fascinating to watch on Saturday. I have massively respect for Wales and their ability to produce world class back rowers. Their ability at the breakdown is superb.

Ireland’s ball protection on Saturday will be the key to the result. Ruck ball presentation was patchy last weekend and exposed ball carriers were seen more than once against Scotland. Can Ireland improve this area of play in a week to improve ruck ball delivery? It is a tall order.

Intriguing player match-ups throughout the pitch. The back three contest and the aerial kick game could see some interesting results early. Larmour, Stockdale in particular need to be strong under the aerial ball.

Sexton vs. Biggar. A superb ten match up there. Biggar skill set all to see last weekend; his setup pass last weekend against Italy a highlight reel moment. His kicking very impressive.

Sexton comes into the fixture in good form. Nineteen points after a layoff was impressive to say the least. The attacking side of the ball was mixed, a couple of line breaks created that on another day may have yielded further scores last weekend.

Verdict:

50/50 game. The weather conditions could a massive factor on Saturday. Rain conditions forecast and the set piece becomes even more important. The quick ruck ball wish could be a rare commodity this weekend given the ferocious breakdown exchanges expected.

Ireland have plenty of scope to improve where as Wales even though in confident form after last weekend will know full well that this is a significant jump in competitiveness to the Italian challenge last weekend.

The Romain Poite factor comes into the equation. Early scrummaging advantage could be decisive. Slight edge to Wales at this time but Ireland have the talent to deliver a result but the cohesion issues of last weekend is a big concern.