Andy Farrell explains his team selection for Scotland match

Some tight calls went the way of Jamison Gibson-Park and Rob Herring

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell is looking forward to a "tough battle" against Scotland on Sunday. Video: VOTN


What does success look like for Ireland?

“Two wins and two good performances,” said Andy Farrell, the national head coach, on announcing the squad to face Scotland at Murrayfield on Sunday in the fourth round of the Six Nations, with England visiting Dublin six days later. “That is what we are after.”

Farrell has made three changes to the Irish team that racked up six tries at Stadio Olimpico in Rome two weeks ago, but the dropped players have all been retained on the bench. There are two changes in the frontrow with Cian Healy returning for an 108th cap instead of Munster loosehead Dave Kilcoyne while, somewhat surprisingly, Ulster’s Rob Herring gets the nod over Leinster’s dynamic young hooker Rónan Kelleher.

“Rob is a great player for us,” said Farrell of a selection many believe is down to reliability out of touch. “He is a big leader in the pack as far as set piece is concerned. He is very accurate in that regard. His work rate goes unseen quite a bit as well.”

The other change has Keith Earls returning on the right wing for a 92nd cap to prove that all three changes will add a wealth of experience to the starting line-up. Jordan Larmour is benched alongside Billy Burns, the outhalf cover for captain Johnny Sexton.

Interestingly, Conor Murray must be satisfied with being the second choice Ireland scrumhalf, for the first time since the incumbent British and Irish Lion broke onto the scene in 2011, as Jamison Gibson-Park’s snappy distribution against Italy and France is rewarded with a third successive start.

“Conor has not played for five weeks,” Farrell said when a changing of the guard was intimated. “Jamison has been playing really well so he deserves his start.

“What does he bring? He brings tempo and a little bit of off-the-cuff type feel to the game,” said Farrell of the former New Zealand Maori. “He plays what’s in front of him and he is dynamic, he has good footwork, and he can ask questions of any type of defence. And his game control is pretty good on the back of that, so it is a nice package to have.”

Murray’s return from a hamstring injury means Craig Casey misses out but Ryan Baird, his fellow first capper from Rome, is retained to offer a serious impact at either secondrow or flanker. Jack Conan and Andrew Porter complete the replacements.

Jacob Stockdale has left the squad to play fullback for Ulster against the Dragons at the Principality stadium in Cardiff tomorrow night, with a view to proving his sharpness before the England match. Also, Caelan Doris is expected to return to action, following a concussion protocol lay off of several weeks, by the end of March, according to Leinster coach Stuart Lancaster.

Scotland are coming off victory at Twickenham and an agonising defeat to Wales when prop Zander Fagerson was red carded and subsequently suspended for making contact with a player’s head on entry to a ruck, in much the same fashion as Peter O’Mahony, also against Wales in Ireland’s opening defeat of the championship.

“I think Scotland’s strength is their belief,” said Farrell. “They 100 per cent believe they are on an upward curve and rightly so because we have seen some really good performances from them. We always find it difficult against Scotland and we are always quite proud of any victory against the Scots.

“Gregor [Townsend] is a great coach and they have some great players as well. What was it, 19-12 the last time we played against them, it always tends to be close. We were pretty pleased with that victory. Was it a surprise to us that they went to Twickenham and came away with that victory? Within that game they grew their belief, didn’t they? 100 per cent. They have some key players back as well. They have always been a tough old side to beat and it will be no different for us on Sunday.”

In response to suggestion from inside the Scotland camp that Ireland are a predictable outfit under Farrell’s management, the 45 year-old Wigan native stated: “They can say whatever they want, it’s irrelevant for us. What I know is that we’re right up for this game, we know how difficult it is going to be going up to Murrayfield but we’re really brimming for a top performance come Sunday afternoon.”

IRELAND: Hugo Keenan (Leinster); Keith Earls (Munster), Garry Ringrose (Leinster), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster), James Lowe (Leinster); Johnny Sexton (Leinster) (capt), Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster); Cian Healy (Leinster), Rob Herring (Ulster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster); Iain Henderson (Ulster), James Ryan (Leinster); Tadhg Beirne (Munster), Will Connors (Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster).

Replacements: Rónan Kelleher (Leinster), Dave Kilcoyne (Munster), Andrew Porter (Leinster), Ryan Baird (Leinster), Jack Conan (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster), Billy Burns (Ulster), Jordan Larmour (Leinster).

SCOTLAND: Stuart Hogg (Exeter); Sean Maitland (Saracens) , Chris Harris (Gloucester), Sam Johnson (Glasgow), 11 Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh); Finn Russell (Racing 92) , Ali Price (Glasgow); Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh), George Turner (Glasgow), WP Nel (Edinburgh); Scott Cummings (Glasgow), Jonny Gray (Exeter); Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow).

Replacements: David Cherry (Edinburgh), Jamie Bhatti (Bath), Simon Berghan (Edinburgh), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), Nick Haining (Edinburgh), Scott Steele (Harlequins), Huw Jones (Glasgow), Darcy Graham (Edinburgh).

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