Almost four years of preparation has led up to this point as Ireland kick off their Rugby World Cup campaign with a crunch match against Six Nations rivals, Scotland.
Both sides are favourites to progress to the knockout rounds so predictably have named strong sides.
Rob Kearney, Keith Earls and Robbie Henshaw miss out due to injury and are replaced by Jordan Larmour, Andrew Conway and Garry Ringrose respectively, while all three Ulstermen are in the starting lineup.
Our own Rory Best begins his fourth World Cup campaign and first as captain of Ireland starts at hooker with Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong as props. Iain Henderson and James Ryan resume as second row partners while the back row features Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier and CJ Stander.
Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton are the half backs while Bundee Aki and Ringrose start in the centre. Lurgan’s own Jacob Stockdale starts on the left wing along with Conway and Larmour in the back three.
The centre partnership of Aki and Ringrose was cut apart in the most recent warm up match against England. Both players couldn’t handle the English movement and left Stockdale isolated on the left wing. While I’ve no doubt Gregor Townsend will have looked at this, I’m also confident that both players are up to match sharpness which was an issue in that match. Stockdale has a formidable opponent on the opposite wing in former Ulsterman, Tommy Seymour.
Scotland have had a bit of joy against Ireland in recent years including a victory in the Six Nations 2017 and the combination of Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg caused trouble in the opening half of this year’s meeting. Despite conceding two tries in the first half Townsend’s men were the better side in the opening half until Ireland grabbed control in the second.
The forwards pushed Ireland over the line as they prevented the hosts from getting possession of the ball. The selection of Hamish Watson, John Barclay and Ryan Wilson is an attempt to combat this with Watson and Barclay in particular very strong at the breakdown.
An indifferent last few months has eased pressure on Irish shoulders after a storming 2018 year. However there is an expectation of ending a run of six World Cup knockout defeats. A lot was expected of the side in 2007, 2011 and 2015 respectively however it all fell apart when it mattered.
It’s evident that Ireland have worked enormously hard on their defence since Argentina cut it to shreds in the 2015 with it securing an impressive Grand Slam in 2018. It’s taken a dip this season but it must return to those heights if Ireland have ambitions of a semi final spot.
This journey started upon the final whistle against Argentina in 2015 and the final chapter starts tomorrow.
The FRU predicts: I think Ireland will get off to a positive start tomorrow. There’ll be a few nerves early on and the absence of Rob Kearney and Robbie Henshaw is a big loss however Joe has correctly rewarded Andrew Conway with a chance to shine after a sterling couple of seasons. Ireland by ten points.
|Jordan Larmour||15||Stuart Hogg|
|Andrew Conway||14||Tommy Seymour|
|Garry Ringrose||13||Duncan Taylor|
|Bundee Aki||12||Sam Johnson|
|Jacob Stockdale||11||Sean Maitland|
|Johnny Sexton||10||Finn Russell|
|Conor Murray||9||Greig Laidlaw|
|Cian Healy||1||Allan Dell|
|Rory Best||2||Stuart McInally|
|Tadhg Furlong||3||Willem Nel|
|Iain Henderson||4||Grant Gilchrist|
|James Ryan||5||Jonny Gray|
|Peter O’Mahony||6||John Barclay|
|Josh vd Flier||7||Hamish Watson|
|CJ Stander||8||Ryan Wilson|
|Niall Scannell||16||Fraser Brown|
|Dave Kilcoyne||17||Gordon Reid|
|Andrew Porter||18||Simon Berghan|
|Tadhg Beirne||19||Scott Cummings|
|Jack Conan||20||Blade Thomson|
|Luke McGrath||21||Ali Price|
|Jack Carty||22||Chris Harris|
|Chris Farrell||23||Darcy Graham|