Sexton and O’Driscoll on track to start
Bulk of the side beaten by Australia are set to be given a shot at redemption
Jonathan Sexton seems set to start against the All Blacks on Sunday.
The bulk of the side beaten 32-15 by Australia last week are set to be given a shot at redemption against New Zealand on Sunday when Joe Schmidt announces the starting XV and replacements at lunchtime today.
Johnny Sexton and Brian O’Driscoll were photographed undergoing fitness tests in the Aviva Stadium yesterday and pending the squad’s training session at their Carton House base this morning, it would appear both will be named in the team.
O’Driscoll was always likely to have one last rendezvous with the All Blacks but against all expectations, including within the camp last Saturday night, Sexton and Rob Kearney are seemingly set to start, the latter having recovered from his rib cartilage injury to train on Wednesday.
The only injury enforced change, given Fergus McFadden’s fractured hand has seen him join Simon Zebo and Keith Earls in Ireland’s diminishing stock of wings, will be at number 11. Logic dictates that Dave Kearney will come in to make his first start after his two-try debut off the bench against Samoa given he was also an original selection in the squad ahead of Andrew Trimble and Luke Fitzgerald, who were subsequent additions.
Two other changes
The likelihood is that there will be two other changes as well, with a recall for Gordon D’Arcy already flagged by Luke Marshall being released to Ulster, and being picked to start at home to Edinburgh this evening.
Schmidt tends to rotate his scrum-halves more than most coaches – indeed they are often something of a signature selection – and it will be a surprise if Conor Murray isn’t recalled for his presence and physicality around the fringes, and strong ‘sweeper’ defending, amongst his other attributes. Granted he was part of the team beaten 60-0 when the sides last met in Hamilton in June of last year, along with potentially eight others of this team, but he went well against them a week before in Christchurch when scoring Ireland’s try in their unlucky 22-19 defeat.
Being demoted last week to the bench will have given him a jolt after making such striking advances on the Lions tour, when had there been a fourth Test he would most likely have been the starting scrum-half, and Schmidt and co will be expecting a big game from him.
It could even be that Isaac Boss, the third scrum-half in the squad who has yet to see any action yet, will be promoted to the bench against his native countrymen bearing in mind Schmidt is also a big fan of the Leinster scrum-half.
There is likely to be less rotation up front – indeed most likely none at all – with last week’s pack retained en bloc, although there must be a strong case for restoring Declan Fitzpatrick. Again, this appears to have been signalled by Fitzpatrick not being released for Ulster duty.
Shane Jennings and James Coughlan are vying with Kevin McLaughlin for a place on the bench as back-row cover but the latter actually provided some go-forward momentum when introduced last week and, again, has always been highly regarded by Schmidt.
There must still be a doubt about Sexton given the nature of his hamstring strain, and if he does not play, one ventures that Paddy Jackson will step into his shoes, although either way Ian Madigan’s position on the bench, given his versatility, looks secure. In other words, Jackson (also not released to Ulster) will assuredly stay with the squad as cover until kick-off. If he doesn’t start, he won’t make the bench.
As for the All Blacks, their travelling media expect Steve Hansen to rotate his front-row, with Wyatt Crockett, Andrew Hore (a possible Leinster target) and Charlie Faumuina, coming into the starting team. Similarly, Luke Romano’s presence alongside Kieran Read at Wednesday’s media briefing is taken as a strong signal that he will renew his second-row partnership with Sam Whitelock.
IRELAND (possible): R Kearney; T Bowe, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, D Kearney; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross, D Toner, P O’Connell, P O’Mahony, S O’Brien, J Heaslip. Replacements: S Cronin, J McGrath, D Fitzpatrick, M McCarthy, K McLaughlin, I Boss, I Madigan, L Fitzgerald.
New Zealand (possible): I Dagg; C Jane, B Smith, M Nonu, J Savea; A Cruden, A Smith; W Crockett, A Hore, C Faumuina, L Romano, S Whitelock, S Luatua, R McCaw, K Read. Replacements: K Mealamu, T Woodcock, O Franks, B Retallick, L Messam or S Cane, T Kerr-Barlow, B Barritt, C Piutau.