Andy Farrell has named four Ulster players in the match-day squad in his first game as Irish boss after taking over from Joe Schmidt at the conclusion of the World Cup.
With Rory Best retiring, the hooker jersey is passed down to another Ulster player, Rob Herring. Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale remain in the second row and on the wing respectively. John Cooney is the remaining Ulster player and starts on the bench behind Conor Murray.
Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong start alongside Herring in the front row while James Ryan partners Henderson at lock. Peter O’Mahony is included on the bench with Caelan Doris pushing CJ Stander to the blindside. Josh van der Flier starts at 7.
Although Murray has not been in great form this season he starts alongside Johnny Sexton at half back with the outhalf being named as Best’s successor. Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose are in the midfield while Stockdale, Andrew Conway and Jordan Larmour make up at frighteningly quick Irish back three.
Doris was the stand out Irish U20 international at the 2018 U20 World Championship and has impressed in the short time he’s been around the Leinster set up. With Doris and Deegan two of the many Leinster back rows coming through, Ireland are certainly not in short supply of them in the coming years. Leinster team mate Ronan Kelleher is the other debutant having started the PRO14 season superbly scoring six tries.
The news of Finn Russell’s departure from the Scottish set up has grabbed the headlines this week with the SRU citing a ‘breach of team protocol’ as reason for his exit. Russell returns to Paris with Adam Hastings his replacement at out half tomorrow. Russell is a big loss as Hastings isn’t quite the finished article despite showing bags of potential. However levels of flair will not drop with the Glasgow half back showing the same level of creativity as Russell.
Despite being over three years out from the next World Cup, this Six Nations will have a significant bearing on France 2023. With the draw for the pools being made at the conclusion of the Autumn Internationals this year, it’s crucial that Ireland have a decent Six Nations to avoid a group of death situation like 2007 or 2011.
This is why I don’t think it was a good idea for Farrell to completely start from scratch. Still, he has made significant changes with Keith Earls and Rob Kearney being omitted while O’Mahony drops to the bench. Cooney is waiting in the wings if Ireland need to speed up the tempo in the latter stages of the game. I think Farrell has made the right number of changes from the World Cup as he tries to get the national side back on the right path.
I think this will be a tough campaign for Ireland. Wales are in the same boat in regards to a new coach however they are coming off the back of a super showing in the World Cup as well as a Grand Slam last year. On paper, France have an exceptionally talented squad while England are always going to be up there.
Ireland have three home games this year but face away trips to France and England. France certainly won’t roll over and hand the game over like they did two years ago while England are always formidable opponents. I suspect a third place finish for Ireland with England and Wales finishing in first and second
The FRU predicts: Ireland should beat Scotland and win all of their home games. I can see two losses on the road however. Ireland to win tomorrow by 13 points.
|Jordan Larmour||15||Stuart Hogg|
|Andrew Conway||14||Sean Maitland|
|Garry Ringrose||13||Huw Jones|
|Bundee Aki||12||Sam Johnson|
|Jacob Stockdale||11||Blair Kinghorn|
|Johnny Sexton||10||Adam Hastings|
|Conor Murray||9||Ali Price|
|Cian Healy||1||Rory Sutherland|
|Rob Herring||2||Fraser Brown|
|Tadhg Furlong||3||Zander Fagerson|
|Iain Henderson||4||Scott Cummings|
|James Ryan||5||Jonny Gray|
|CJ Stander||6||Jamie Ritchie|
|Josh vd Flier||7||Hamish Watson|
|Caelan Doris||8||Nick Haining|
|Ronan Kelleher||16||Stuart McInally|
|Dave Kilcoyne||17||Allan Dell|
|Andrew Porter||18||Simon Berghan|
|Devin Toner||19||Ben Toolis|
|Peter O’Mahony||20||Cornell du Preez|
|John Cooney||21||George Horne|
|Ross Byrne||22||Rory Hutchinson|
|Robbie Henshaw||23||Chris Harris|