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Ireland v Wales: Ciarán Frawley set to be named at fullback in place of injured Hugo Keenan

Andy Farrell to revert to close to starting XV who played in opening win over France, with Stuart McCloskey on the bench

Ciarán Frawley is set to be named at fullback in place of the injured Hugo Keenan when the Ireland side to face Wales in the Six Nations at the Aviva Stadium next Saturday is unveiled at about 2pm on Thursday.

That enforced change apart, presuming those who missed out on the second-round win over Italy are all fit again, then it seems likely that Andy Farrell will otherwise revert to the starting XV who played in the opening win over France in Marseille.

If so, this would see recalls for Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony and Bundee Aki – who all missed the Italian game at least partly through injury – as well as Josh van der Flier and Jamison Gibson-Park, who were sprung from the bench against Italy. This would in turn mean Caelan Doris reverting from openside to number eight, and the captaincy being handed back to O’Mahony.

Interestingly, the word is that Farrell and his assistant coaches are of a mind to again choose a 6-2 split on the bench, as an Irish matchday squad did for the first time on that opening night in Marseille.


This would enable Farrell and co to retain James Ryan, Ryan Baird and Jack Conan – all of whom were replacements in the Stade Velodrome before starting at home against Italy last Sunday week – in their matchday 23.

It seems likely that Cian Healy will also be restored to the replacements as well, while the indications are that the two backs on the bench will be Conor Murray and Stuart McCloskey. Effectively, therefore, the only changes from the matchday 23 from that 38-17 win over France would be Frawley being promoted from the bench to replace Keenan, with McCloskey being promoted to the replacements. Although there is a strong suggestion that Munster tighthead Oli Jager could be named on the bench, in which case he would be in line to win his first Ireland cap.

Murray was rested for the 36-0 win over Italy, but it seems as if Craig Casey’s performance was not enough to dislodge the more experienced Munster scrumhalf from the matchday squad. Besides this, Murray’s experience and strength are still valued by Farrell and his assistants, and at 34 the 113-time capped scrumhalf has retained both his fitness and desire, believing he has still has plenty of good rugby in him and plenty to achieve.

The selection of McCloskey, if it comes to pass, would be relatively surprising, but with Frawley’s selection at fullback and in the absence of Jimmy O’Brien, the Irish squad is relatively short of versatile backs. If Aki and Robbie Henshaw are retained, and McCloskey is named, it would suggest Garry Ringrose’s injury has not fully healed.

Although Frawley has only won two caps off the bench, in the warm-up win over Italy and for the last two minutes in Marseille, and has played at outhalf and inside centre for Leinster more often, the talented 26-year-old from Skerries did play at fullback for his province twice last season and six times this season.

He is strong, a good tackler with a big kicking game and could dovetail as a second playmaker with Jack Crowley, for whom he is evidently covering as well. Although Crowley was shifted to fullback when Keenan was taken off against Italy, with Harry Byrne coming on at outhalf, not surprisingly Farrell and Mike Catt are reluctant to take Crowley out of his more preferred and effective position at 10 after making such a good start to this post-Johnny Sexton era.

In the absence of the injured Mack Hansen and O’Brien, shifting James Lowe to fullback would be similarly disruptive, and Frawley looks a more natural fit than either Jordan Larmour or Jacob Stockdale, who have more or less become specialist wingers.

Overall, in reverting to what amounts to a full-strength side allowing for injuries, this selection would also be a clear demonstration of Ireland’s intent as defending champions in this year’s Six Nations as they seek to make history by winning back-to-back Grand Slams for the first time.

It would also serve to indicate the respect with which this Irish management and squad hold for both the threat posed by a remodelled Welsh side under Warren Gatland, whose two defeats by Scotland and England have been by a cumulative three points, and the importance which they attach to the Six Nations.

Ultimately, too, while the core of the World Cup starting XV has remained intact, with Sexton retired, and Keenan now joining Hansen and Ringrose on the list of those deemed hors de combat, and the emergence of Joe McCarthy, and Baird now accommodated in a 6-2 split, this Irish side has still evolved significantly too.

IRELAND (possible v Wales): Ciarán Frawley (Leinster); Calvin Nash (Munster), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster), Bundee Aki (Connacht), James Lowe (Leinster); Jack Crowley (Munster), Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster); Andrew Porter (Leinster), Dan Sheehan (Leinster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster); Joe McCarthy (Leinster), Tadhg Beirne (Munster); Peter O’Mahony (Munster, capt), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Caealan Doris (Leinster).

Replacements: Rónan Kelleher (Leinster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Finlay Bealham (Connacht)/Oli Jager (Munster), James Ryan (Leinster), Ryan Baird (Leinster), Jack Conan (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster), Stuart McCloskey (Ulster).

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times