Jimmy O’Brien in line to finish very promising autumn campaign on the wing for Ireland

Leinster player putting pressure on Robert Baloucoune as Andy Farrell prepares to name side to face Australia

Jimmy O’Brien’s emergence in this Nations Series and increasing value to the Irish team is likely to see the 25-year-old from Eadestown named in the Irish matchday squad for the third successive game when Andy Farrell unveils his selection to face Australia at lunchtime on Thursday.

O’Brien made a memorable debut in the win over South Africa last Saturday week when coming on as a first-half replacement for Stuart McCloskey and fitting in seamlessly at outside centre alongside Garry Ringrose.

He backed that up with another effective all-round performance in his full debut at fullback last Saturday in the win over Fiji. And to underline his versatility it is possible that he will be named on the right wing to face the Wallabies at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday night (kick-off 8pm).

For all Robert Baloucoune’s speed, finishing and X-factor, he’s had two relatively quiet games while stationed on the right wing. Farrell and Mike Catt like their wingers to work across the line, while being deft distributors and decision-makers, and à la Mack Hansen – another versatile player who can pretty much play across the backline – O’Brien ticks those boxes.


Another big decision facing Farrell and his coaching staff is whether to retain McCloskey or restore Bundee Aki, who has been training with the squad throughout this November window and has completed his seven-week suspension.

Ringrose, who has been carrying a heavy load after coming on in the fifth minute against Fiji to replace the hamstrung Robbie Henshaw – a late withdrawal the day before the Springboks game – is effectively set for his eighth successive game for Leinster and Ireland.

Johnny Sexton confirmed his return to training at the weekly captain’s press conference on Wednesday and that he is “ready to go”, while the expectation is that the other players who sustained various bumps and bruises in a typically physical encounter against the Springboks and were unable to train last week will also return.

This would see Hugo Keenan resuming at fullback, as well as Andrew Porter, James Ryan and Josh van der Flier up front. With Peter O’Mahony also expected to return after being rested last week, potentially this could be the same pack which started all three Tests in the comeback series win over the All Blacks in New Zealand as well as the victory over South Africa.

Tadhg Beirne and Caelan Doris, likely to revert to number eight, are thus set to start their third successive Test in the series, with Dan Sheehan also restored at hooker after his role as a replacement last week against Fiji.

Were this selection to come to pass, it would see Keenan, Ringrose, Sexton, Porter, Sheehan, Ryan, O’Mahony and Van der Flier all returning to the starting XV. Compared to the team which kicked off against South Africa, this could mean just two changes, with O’Brien coming in for Robert Baloucoune and Jamison Gibson-Park starting instead of Conor Murray, whose 100th Irish cap was, of course, cruelly cut short by the groin injury which has seen him return to Munster.

There remain some interesting selections on the bench, with Jeremy Loughman pushing Cian Healy for inclusion after backing up his performance in the Ireland ‘A’ game against an All Blacks XV with his Test debut against Fiji last week. Farrell, Paul O’Connell and John Fogarty have to also consider a third tier to their frontrow options.

Either way, as against New Zealand and South Africa, Rob Herring, Finlay Bealham, Kieran Treadwell and Jack Conan will probably provide cover on the bench again.

Although Ross Byrne was recalled to the squad in light of Joey Carbery joining Ciarán Frawley on the sidelines, given that decision was made on Tuesday it looked like Farrell and co were covering all bases with a third specialist outhalf in the overall squad to act as one of the 24th men.

The likelihood remains that Jack Crowley will again be on the bench after making his debut for the last 35 minutes against Fiji given the investment in him of late, what with two starts on the Emerging Ireland tour and a stint off the bench in that Ireland ‘A’ game.

He’s also been in camp throughout this month, and so it could come to pass that both young Munster halfbacks, Craig Casey and Crowley, could finish out Saturday night’s game in harness.

O’Brien’s versatility and ability to switch either midfield or fullback also gives the Irish coaches all manner of possibilities for the number 23 jersey.

IRELAND (possible v Australia): Keenan; O’Brien, Ringrose, McCloskey, Hansen; Sexton (capt), Gibson-Park; Porter, Sheehan, Furlong; Ryan, Beirne; O’Mahony, van der Flier, Doris.

Replacements: Herring, Healy/Loughman, Bealham, Treadwell, Conan, Casey, Crowley, Aki/Baloucoune.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times