Italy arrive to Dublin for the third round of the Guinness Six Nations this weekend with questions aplenty around their performance and progression in team development.
After some encouraging moments against France in round one, the Italians were demolished by England in Rome last time out.
Will Ireland look at the England performance and look to integrate exciting prospects into the starting lineup? Hawkeye Sidekick ponders that intriguing question.
Continuity vs. Wholesale Changes
With key fixtures against England and Scotland remaining and after the bye week, Andy Farrell may feel that his frontline players are freshened up sufficiently to put in the minutes this weekend.
England will be a monstrous test match with their physicality and speed. Farrell may feel that the certain players need game time to be on it for round four. There could be three or max four changes to the starting lineup truth be told.
Initial Team Thoughts
The back three of Keenan, Conway and Hansen have provided key attacking cameos so far in this tournament while providing assured defensive coverage in the opening two rounds.
If there are changes, it could be in the wings. Baloucoune or Lowe may get a start to impress but it would be harsh on either Hansen or Conway.
Keenan at full back is a lock but would Farrell consider giving game time to Mike Lowry? Given the tournament stage that we are in, it might be a long shot.
The three quarters is potentially an area where changes will be made. Robbie Henshaw is probably primed for game minutes after coming off the bench in Paris.
Aki and Henshaw axis would be an interesting watch. James Hume comes into the picture to partner Henshaw or Aki as well. I think there will be at least one personnel change in this unit for the game on Sunday.
The half-back partnership should remain the same for Sunday. Sexton will be keen to get back on the pitch but Carbery delivered an assured performance in Paris and deserves another starting opportunity.
I would like to see Jack Carty get the nod on the bench and secure some significant minutes in this test match. Sexton can be left in reserve for England and Scotland. The ten depth chart needs to be evaluated.
The scrum-half position appears to be Jamison Gibson-Park’s jersey at this present time. Conor Murray is now an impact substitute to close out games.
Will Andy Farrell look to change this up? I think not for now. Murray could even start this game to get game minutes but realistically Gibson-Park’s speed and pace of pass at ruck time will be required initially to disrupt and unhinge Italy’s defensive setup.
The back row unit could see changes. O’Mahony will look for game time to impress. Doris or van der Flier could be rested for this weekend. Jack Conan will be keen to get another opportunity at eight after France’s back row nullified his ball carrying threat. Does Gavin Coombes or Nick Timoney come into the equation?
The second row should see Iain Henderson get extended minutes ahead of the English fixture. Henderson provides that physicality, work rate and leadership to the front five. Henderson and Baird would be a superb second row partnership for the weekend. Baird’s athletic mobility complements Henderson. Tadhg Beirne potentially could switch to the back row if required.
The front row will see a change at hooker. Dan Sheehan looks primed to start for Ireland. An assured thrower, his work rate and all round game has impressed for province and country this term. Rob Herring and Dave Heffernan though will be chomping at the bit to get game minutes if selected. Hooker squad depth will be evaluated now with Ronan Kelleher out for the duration of this championship.
The prop depth chart needs to be evaluated at the weekend. Finlay Bealham will get extended game minutes on Sunday. Tom O’Toole unfortunately misses out which is a blow for the player but also to management who would have liked to evaluate the player in this test match.
Andrew Porter has made the transition from tighthead to loosehead prop seamlessly. Cian Healy provides assured backup in this position. Dave Kilcoyne potentially comes into the mix here. Will Ireland management look for front row cohesion early and then introduce players for lengthy game minutes? I suspect that loosehead prop will see Porter retain his place.
Hawkeye Sidekick XV
15 – Hugo Keenan
14 – Robert Baloucoune
13 – James Hume
12 – Robbie Henshaw
11 – Mack Hansen
10 – Joey Carbery
9 – Jamison Gibson Park
8 – Jack Conan
7 – Josh van der Flier
6 – Peter O’Mahony
5 – Ryan Baird
4 – Iain Henderson (c)
3 – Finlay Bealham
2 – Dan Sheehan
1 – Andrew Porter