We look at the predicted starting team for Ireland that could actually beat Wales on Saturday, kick-off 2:30 pm.
When preparing for a World Cup, losing to your arch-rivals by 42-points is probably the worst possible outcome – so it’s back to the drawing board for Joe Schmidt and Ireland after their dismal display versus England.
Another stern test for Ireland comes in the form of Wales, and Schmidt will be forced into wholesale changes for the game given injuries racking up, but mostly due to a series of lacklustre performances from those who had an opportunity to impress and make their way into the first-team picture.
Unfortunately, for some the opportunity was seemingly blown. With the World Cup less than a month away, it’s time to start considering bringing in a more experienced side, and more familiar faces should return to the line-up as they bid to rack up valuable minutes before jetting off to Japan.
Predicted starting team for Ireland
15: Rob Kearney – There’s no doubt that Ireland probably cannot rely on Kearney to play every single game, but he should get the nod. One of the best of a bad bunch at Twickenham, he has consistently proved reliable on the big occasion.
14: Keith Earls – His absence has been notable, and as Ireland’s leading try scorer at the World Cup, it will be important to have Earls back to his best before heading to face Scotland. Jordan Larmour remains a great prospect, but it is imperative to bring Earls into the fray.
13: Robbie Henshaw – Either Henshaw or Chris Farrell are likely to come in this time out, with Garry Ringrose making way. Ringrose struggled with Manu Tuilagi versus England, and the centre position is certainly one not yet nailed on for anybody.
12: Bundee Aki – The Connacht man, like Kearney, was the best of a bad bunch against England. His quick feet and bull-like approach add a different dimension to Ireland, his range of skills will be crucial in attack.
11: Jacob Stockdale – While undeniably poor last time out having been caught out on multiple occasions, his chipping ability and threat to grab tries mean it’s very hard to drop him, as he in truth remains Ireland’s greatest threat.
10: Jonny Sexton – Ross Byrne’s kicking is not quite up to scratch yet, and what is needed is someone who will take advantage of opportunities and punish opposing mistakes, who better than the World Player of the Year to do so.
9: Kieran Marmion – Injury concern for Conor Murray will hand Marmion an opportunity. Many believe John Cooney has been hard done by in Schmidt’s preference for the Connacht man, and this will serve as a great chance to show exactly why the coach instils so much belief in him.
8: CJ Stander – His game is largely reliant on possession and carrying forward, and should Ireland prove second best, Stander will again be stifled. On his day, there is no better to do the task at hand.
7: Josh Van Der Flier – It’s hard to remember a poor performance from Van Der Flier. He breaks up play with ease and has deservedly become a mainstay in the fold.
6: Peter O’Mahony – The Munster man hasn’t quite been up to scratch as of late, but often chooses the biggest occasions to deliver, it will be important to keep faith in him on the eve of a major tournament.
5: James Ryan – Jean Kleyn struggled against England, his pace often proving his downfall. The return of Ryan will be pivotal, as Ireland seriously need improvement in both the line-out and the scrum.
4: Iain Henderson – Another who underperformed especially from the line-out, but again showed glimpses of his ability when turning the ball over for Larmour’s try. Should Ireland get the basics right, he will prosper.
3: Tadhg Furlong – Guaranteed to always dominate on physical terms, he never gives an inch to the opponent and will be vital to the cause both now and in weeks to come.
2: Niall Scannell – Rory Best’s lineouts were poor at the weekend, and it is arguable that it may be time for change in this position and that he misses the starting team for Ireland. Scannell has proved reliable in past for club and country, and he may be the man to get the line-out ticking.
1: Andrew Porter – He is the versatile prop all sides cry out for and has experience from both sides of the scrum. Cian Healy is likely to sit this one out, and Porter may well be asked to revert back to loosehead. It could prove a worthwhile experiment and give Porter game time that his recent showings warrant.
There will be opportunities from the bench for the likes of Jack Carty, Devin Toner, Chris Farrell and others, but should Ireland suffer defeat again, morale will be low on the plane to Japan, which makes this far more than a simple warm-up game.