Ireland’s Tadhg Beirne against the USA. His ability and value is obvious even when the system stuttered as the USA asked some probing questions. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ability to influence the game as starter or replacement pushes him ahead of Iain Henderson

Niall Scannell: is a significant threat to Rory Best as Ireland hooker given his command of the basics and his exceptional ball carrying ability. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Final November Test a perfect platform for several players to press their own case

Jacob Stockdale scores Ireland’s crucial try against New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium.   Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Cornerstone of Ireland’s tactics produced lots of options and game’s defining moment

Devin Toner: he starts against New Zealand, not because he’s the best in the air but because of the wisdom he brings to lineout management. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Ireland will need to have learned quickly from mistakes in Argentina game

Devin Toner made a big impact coming off the replacements bench against the Pumas. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Our writers pick the Irish sides they want to see take on the mighty All Blacks

Ireland’s Devin Toner claims a lineout during the  international against Argentina at the Aviva Stadium.  Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

For all the positive field possession, Ireland struggled to break Argentina’s resistance

  After 10 phases Emiliano Boffelli at fullback and Pablo Matera, above,  at blindside wing forward and captain can be  devastating. Photograph:  Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

The ability to think their way out of a crisis would be a huge plus for Ireland

Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale is tackled by Giulio Bisegni of Italy at Solider Field, Chicago.  Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Italians have clever players but lack athletes and grunt to execute momentum changes

David Kilcoyne:  there’s now a subtlety and awareness to his ball carrying that hasn’t been there in previous campaigns. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

'Far too many teams, especially schools, are rooted in pre-ordained ‘professional’ plans'

 James Lowe’s brilliant offload to Jack Conan set up their  crucial try against Munster  in  the Pro14 semi-final at the RDS.  Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Riveting final in store as Scarlets too have the size, skill set and smarts to vary their game

 Conor Murray and a kicking game will only provide Munster with so many opportunities. Photograph:  Bryan Keane/Inpho

Jean Kleyn will prove pivotal in ensuring his side’s secondrow is on par with Cullen’s

Teddy Iribaren had a fine game for Racing 92. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty

Racing 92 didn’t fatigue as expected because they were able to dictate tempo of the game

Leinster’s Scott Fardy: he  is possibly the best rugby brain in the Leinster squad. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

At the heart of Leinster's greatness is a deep understanding of their game plan

Joey Carbery: His conundrum will find its own solution; elite rugby tends to. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

The Irish team punches above its weight, but at provincial level, success is harder to define

James Ryan in action against Scarlets. Leinster are ruthless in their support of their ball-carrier. Time and again the Leinster ball-carrier entered contact on his terms.  Photograph:  David Rogers/Getty Images

Neither Scarlets or Munster had the ability to tweak their tactics to nullify the opposition

Munster’s Conor Murray in action against Cheetahs in the Guinness PRO14 at Bloemfontein, South Africa on  April 13th. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

If Munster can steal turnovers and counterattack, they can tire Racing out

Ireland U-20s Tommy O’Brien scores a try against England at the Ricoh Arena.  “I suspect that the environment engendered in the Irish U-20 camp will ultimately provide the better end product.” Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Encouraging the correct balance between skills/errors so crucial for young players

Leinster's James Ryan is tackled by Maro Itoje and Jamie George of Saracens. Photograph: Inpho

Impressive Ryan’s rugby intelligence proved a key factor in the victory over Saracens

Tackling Toulon’s  Mathieu Bastareaud is one thing: preventing him offloading is quite another. Photograph: Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images.

Toulon centre’s ability to wreak havoc must be curbed if home side are to prevail

Six Nations  grand slam: Tadhg Furlong at Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty

Liam Toland: England should learn from Ireland – and from Glenstal Abbey

 Garry Ringrose of Ireland touches down for the first try during the NatWest Six Nations match between England and Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday. Photograph:  Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

It was no accident that, despite being tested to our limits, we had the measure of England

England players show their dejection at the final whistle after defeat to France in the Six Nations match at the Stade de France, Paris. When Ireland face a fast transitioning team from one side of the pitch in that zone we are vulnerable. Photograph: PA

Eddie Jones has changed his entire rugby vision with his new selection for Saturday

James Ryan: was again outstanding for Ireland, his attitude and execution  exemplary. Photograph:  Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Scotland were full of clever plays, offloads but lacked the power and oomph to hurt Ireland.

Gregor Townsend: get into where the space is and let the ball-carrier find you; this is a crucial Townsend value where he accepts mistakes to make this happen.  Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA

Schmidt's side will not offer up the chances provided by England’s poor technique

Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale celebrates his try against Wales with Conor Murray and Chris Farrell. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

Why are Ireland’s oppenents inflicting so much damage with just 33 per cent of the ball?

Cian Healy celebrates his try with Bundee. The score was an incredible insight into the prop’s  energy and ambition. Photograph:  Niall Carson/PA Wire.

Joe Schmidt’s men mastered the breakdown to claim victory in the trenches

Ireland’s Andrew Porter training at Carton House. Wales will be planning an all-out attack on the talented young tighthead. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Andrew Porter faces baptism of fire against Dragons as scrums could prove crucial

“Carbery is a wonderfully talented player – possibly the most talented in the Irish squad – but...?” Photograph: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Is his lack of real pitch-time impacting his natural skillset for spotting space?

Ireland’s Jack Conan. In the lead up to Earls’ try Conan instinctively knew to get the ball away from where Italy were honey-potting to where the space existed. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Conan’s contribution to Earls’ try an example of how to identify possibilities

Joe Schmidt's side need electric recycles and to suck Azzurri into cul-de-sacs

Ireland’s prop Tadhg Furlong vies with France’s Paul Gabrillagues  and France’s hooker Guilhem Guirado during Saturday's Six Nations match at the Stade de France in Paris. Photograph: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images

Schmidt’s side displayed discipline in painstakingly plotting a win from a certain defeat

James Ryan at Ireland team training at Carton House, Co Kildare. Photograph: Getty Images

James Ryan in for Devin Toner in Six Nations opener against France is a big call from Schmidt

Racing 92’s Donnacha Ryan and Keith Earls of Munster are two men who do not lack in motivation.  Photograph: Dan Sheridan

Joe Schmidt has to show if he wants the Six Nations or if he has his eye on 2019 World Cup

Culturally, the under-12s arrived into Old Crescent with a dream – not of becoming engineers, but of playing as professionals for Munster and Ireland. Photograph: Inpho

As obsession over looks dominates it’s important we have zero tolerance in Ireland

 CJ Stander: turned down a  reported €840,000 a year salary in France to remain committed to Munster and Ireland. Photograph:  Henry Browne/Getty Images

Munster player is a wonderful ambassador of whatever Irishness means

Conor Murray running the game against  Leicester in Thomond Park. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Leicester must fix passing problems to mount serious challenge to Munster

Leicester’s George Ford: programmed to find green grass wherever and whenever possible and is leading the Premiership kicking stats. Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Province have the wherewithal to deal with a competent but far from great Leicester

The detail that went  into the play leading to Conor Murray’s crossfield box kick wiper that could have given Adam Byrne an opening for a try against South Africa is unbelievable.  Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Joe Schmidt has got his Ireland side excelling at the basics but now we can evolve

Ireland scrumhalf Conor Murray in action against Argentina. “In the opening half Los Pumas didn’t engage the breakdown, affording Ireland total comfort in possession.”  Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Reselection never a guarantee in Schmidt era due to the huge amount of talent within squad

James Ryan and Iain Henderson form a an interesting second row partnership for Ireland. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Exciting potential evident in the back three, the backrow and new second row pairing

Ireland’s Joey Carbery making  a break against Fiji at the Aviva. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland have beaten Fiji with a whole raft of new faces – with some especially shining

Jesse Kriel and Courtnall Skosan’s failure to smash Darren Sweetnam into touch was completely unacceptable. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan

Irish players with meek opportunities may stake a claim in non-Joe Schmidt style of game

South Africa’s centre Damian de Allende   is tackled by  Robbie Henshaw. Photograph: Getty Images

Exciting times ahead if Ireland can build on this record-breaking performance

Bundee Aki during Ireland squad training at Carton House in Co Kildare. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

With Bundee Aki in midfield the evolution of how we transition is ripe for exploitation

Simon Zebo:  It appears everybody loves him  and totally understands the reasons for his move to “France”. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

There’s not a player in Irish rugby akin to Zebo and his case should stand on its own merits

Champions Cup: Jeremy Sinzelle on his way to scoring a try against Ulster. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Leinster will prove a different challenge as they know how to flick the switch

La Rochelle’s players celebrate their win on the pitch after beating Harlequins in the Champions Cup. Photo: Ollie Goodwood/Getty Images

Champions Cup new boys showed what they are made of in opener and will be a real test

Tadhg Furlong showed his true value to Leinster in unlocking space against Munster. Photograph:  Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Irish tighthead proved a force multiplier in the victory over Munster and can do so again

Munster’s Rory Scannell is tackled by Nick Williams of Cardiff at the Guinness PRO14 in Thomond Park, Limerick in September.  Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Implementing a structure for the sake of it is not enough – we need to develop skills

Colm O Luasa, Caimin Keogh and Neville Furlong: all from 63rd Cadet Class, overseas with 73 Infantry  Battalion, Lebanon, 1993

He will be missed by many – his family, Garryowen, and his old army rugby team-mates

Glenstal Abbey and PBC take the field for last year’s Munster Schools Senior Cup Final at Thomond Park. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho

Being on the fringes of the school panel can mean students play precious little rugby

The Scarlets close down Leinster’s Robbie Henshaw in the Guinness Pro12 semi-final at the RDS. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Key to victory lies in battle of opensides

The holy trinity of wins over South Africa, New Zealand and Australia last year has Conor Murray at the beating heart of Munster, and especially Ireland. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland players can improve Lions chances by overcoming Welsh rivals in Pro12 semi-finals

Saracens know the best way to get at Clermont is to disrupt their scrumhalf Moran Parra. Photograph: by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

Ireland can’t compete with these European heavyweights on money but we can on resources

Rhys Webb: Conor Murray has a battle on his hands from the Wales scrumhalf who is as a real contender for that Lions’ Test slot against New Zealand. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ospreys and Wales scrumhalf not restricted by the consistent use of pre-ordained plays

Leinster’s Joey Carbery and Isa Nacewa with David Strettle and Aurélien Rougerie of Clermont at the European Rugby Champions Cup Semi-Final at Stade de Gerland, Lyon. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Leinster and Munster needed the ‘OODA Loop’: Observe-Orientate-Decide-Act

Peter O’Mahony rises high to steal a crucial late lineout against England’s Maro Itoje at the Aviva. The two Lions will renew rivalry tomorrow at the same venue. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Match up of Lions Maro Itoje and Peter O’Mahony worth the match ticket alone

The Old Crecent Under-17s celebrate their win at the Portugal Rugby Youth Festival 2017 in Lisbon last weekend. Photograph: Rhys Herdman

Fantastic experience as panel of 28 young lads experience a memorable trip to Portugal

Tadhg Furlong and Seán O’Brien kept Ireland on the front foot against Wasps in the Champions Cup quarter-final. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Leinster frontrower showed the ambition Ireland need if they are to dominate

Two of Wasps’ three playmakers, former Leinster man Jimmy Gopperth and Australian Kurtley Beale. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Munster must keep ball alive to fatigue a huge Toulouse pack

John Hayes and Paul O’Connell were formidable attacking the opposition’s lineout ball, which created counter-attacking opportunities.  Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

If we want to compete with All Blacks we need to practise attacking off turnover ball

Asking the right questions: Peter O’Mahony competing in the lineout. Photograph:  Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Peter O’Mahony a key figure, but all were phenomenal, including the Aviva crowd

Jared Payne could prove a wonderful foil to Sexton by running rewind lines in a second playmaker role. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Joe Schmidt’s side must play smart to disrupt England’s impressive recycle speed

England’s Maro Itoje in action against Scotland: he is “like some sort of hybrid player that comes along but once a century”. Photograph: David Davies/PA Wire

Schmidt needs to look at players and tactics against harder opposition than Wales

France’s Gaël Fickou breaks the tackle of Ireland’s Garry Ringrose  at the Aviva Stadium. A missed tackle in midfield usually costs seven points at this level. Photograph: Colm O’Neill/Inpho

Ireland must test the Welsh non-pushing up defensive side and keep penalty count down

 England’s Dylan Hartley  speaks to referee Romain Poite during the game against Italy at Twickenham. Photograph: Henry Browne/Livepic/Reuters

Conor O’Shea is being hailed as a genius but all he did was apply the breakdown law

Jonathan Sexton kicks a drop goal against France: Wasn’t it great to see him walk off the pitch unhindered by injury? Photograph: Colm O’Neill/Inpho

Allowing Murray dictate the pace and field position through his box-kicks was crucial

I do expect a subtler performance from Jack McGrath in managing Rabah Slimani. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

France’s new pod system has limitations which Ireland can exploit and expose

Josh van der Flier would be a wise selection against France. Photograph:  Craig Mercer/ CameraSport via Getty Images

A different balance in the backrow could swing the odds in favour of Schmidt’s team

Ireland’s Craig Gilroy goes after a loose ball at the Stadio Olimpico. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Italy defence caught was short after assuming the visitors would truck it up middle

 Ireland’s CJ Stander is tackled by Scotland’s Richie Gray and Allan Dell as the home side effectively focused on one-out Irish ball-carriers at Murrayfield. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Schmidt’s side must counterattack more effectively than they did at Murrayfield

Nearly every Scottish backline move was a double-skip to fullback Stuart Hogg. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

Concern after Murrayfield loss is that things may get harder before they get easier

Dr Arthur Tanner  attending to  Brian O’Driscoll at the Aviva Stadium in 2014. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

This wise professor laid stepping stones, not stumbling blocks, for the men under his care

“In addition to Andrew Conway’s brilliant display was his stand-up, fend and offload for Ian Keatley’s try with the touchline advancing –sublime skills.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho.

Andrew Conway is our most improved back and is morphing into another Schmidt clone

Munster’s Simon Zebo in action against Racing 92: the  Zebo v  Hogg clash on the 4G pitch in Glasgow is a mouthwatering prospect. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

The province’s defensive systems will be put to the test in clash with Glasgow Warriors

Racing’s opening two minutes at home to Glasgow failed to impress: “Carter, making a half break, decided to right hand backdoor pass inside.” Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP.

Recent evidence suggests French giants suffer problems in technique or mindset

Bundee Aki is out of action until February. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Connacht players always believe their fullback will ride the tackle and find his man

Wasps’ Kurtley Beale evades Stacey Ili’s tackle to score a try against Connacht. Photograph: Paul Childs/Reuters

Pat Lam’s side for once looked vulnerable with ball in hand but expect improvement

Leicester scrumhalf Ben Youngs celebrates a try for England against Australia. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Livepic

Munster’s Conor Murray versus Leicester’s Ben Youngs is an intriguing prospect

 Ireland’s Conor Murray gets ready to put the ball into the scrum against Australia. Photograph: Colm O’Neill/Inpho

Maximising key attacking platform will be a potent weapon during the Six Nations

 Peter O’Mahony celebrates Ireland’s victory over Australia. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Wallabies were sublime at times but the home side overcame great odds to prevail

 David Pocock:  is especially good at riding the waves of opposition clear-outs due to his exceptional reading of the evolving tackle and breakdown.   Photograph:  Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Ireland will need to match their intensity displayed against the All Blacks to prevail again

Conor Murray and  Ben Smith compete  during Saturday’s clash:  “Having lost 21-9, I was troubled with how to frame such a brutal Test match.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Superb Ireland performances not enough to stop New Zealand team intent on revenge

Brodie Retallick will boost the New Zealand scrum as well as the lineout. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Return of Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock represent a real challenge for Joe Schmidt’ side

Ireland’s Rob Kearney is tackled by Aaron Smith of New Zealand in Soldier Field: “Not only was his performance sublime, his leadership   was phenomenal.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Managing teams in big games against opposition like the All Blacks is key to success

Simon Zebo (left) of Ireland celebrates with teammate Jonny Sexton after scoring his team’s fourth try against New Zealand at Soldier Field, Chicago. Photograph: Getty Images

Ireland’s players followed Joe Schmidt’s plan to the letter and reaped that historic reward

Barrett at 10 is sensational; he has a fullback’s pace and, with Coles, makes up my favourite back and forward combo.

There are a million things New Zealand do better than us but Ireland can still prevail

Seán O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony could have a big impact against the All Blacks if they are introduced from the bench. Photograph: Marcus Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland have culture, coaches and players to make history by finally beating New Zealand

Anthony Foley with his sister Rosie who also represented Ireland. Photo: Marie McCallan/Press 22

He was a modest man who always let his achievements fly well below the radar

Ball control is the key factor for Connacht in their opening Champions Cup fixture against Toulouse, writes Liam Toland. Photo: Inpho

Ball control is key factor for Pat Lam’s side in Champions Cup opener with Toulouse

CJ Stander takes on Leinster’s Jamie Heaslip during last April’s PRO12 clash at the Aviva. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Both men will be compared right up to the announcement of team to face All Blacks

Munster’s Dave O’Callaghan evades Edinburgh’s Michael Allen. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Munster try against Edinburgh demonstrated how they have added value to ball

Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow: synthetic surface gives exciting rugby a chance. Photograph: Craig Watson/Inpho

Surfaces such as Scotstoun can make slobbering around in the muck a thing of the past

The Wallace brothers, Paul, David and Richard, ahead of the Cross Atlantic Way Rugby Legends Cycle

Paul Wallace’s 2016 Cross Atlantic Way left us all tired and emotional

Connacht  coach Pat Lam and centre Bundee Aki celebrate with the Pro12 trophy. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Pat Lam’s men took their chances but what really counted was how they made them

Connacht Tom McCartney and Bundee Aki at squad training. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Leinster’s big strength going into Pro12 showpiece is that they know how to win

 Ulster’s Paddy Jackson in action against Leinster in April in Belfast. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Paddy Jackson has led way for Ulster as they improve ability to exploit opportunities

The vice-chairman of World Rugby, Agustin Pichot. Photograph: Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images

Racing Metro have great chance in Champions Cup if they stop Billy Vunipola

Irupa Hall of Fame winner Ronan O’Gara and his wife Jessica with the Zurich Irupa Players’ Player of the Year CJ Stander at the awards dinner in the Hilton by Double Tree, Ballsbridge.  Photograph: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Outstanding personal season for Munster and Ireland recognised by his fellow players

Ben Johnson: faced disaster when his career ended in disgrace. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Transitory nature of life as a top-level sports person inevitably brings its own challenges

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