Aki, Ringrose and Henshaw: Brian O’Driscoll has his say on Ireland’s midfield riddle

Ireland great says Andy Farrell should keep the faith with Conor Murray against Italy

Three into two won't go, although such was the frequency one or other of Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose were sidelined in the last two years of his tenure that it was a riddle which Joe Schmidt was almost never required to solve.

Andy Farrell was faced with the puzzle in his first game against Scotland last February, and opted for an Aki-Ringrose partnership and Henshaw on the bench, whereupon Ringrose only lasted the first half due to a broken thumb.

Now all three are fit again, as well as Chris Farrell and Stuart McCloskey, with Ringrose - recently crowned as both Leinster's and Ireland's Player of the year - nailed on in the number '13' jersey which Brian O'Driscoll adorned with more distinction than anyone.

As to what the combination should be, O'Driscoll himself says: "There's a couple of ways you could look at it. Defensively the best two are Robbie and Garry and the fact they defend together at Leinster helps them from a partnership point of view.


“I think in attack, Bundee’s offered more; his energy, the aggression he’s brought. I think Robbie’s been solid without really creating as much as maybe Bundee has. Besides his couple of scores I just think he’s really enthused being back playing rugby and he’s bringing a lot of energy to things. But I do think that he doesn’t get the defensive side of things quite like Robbie does.

“So it depends on what you’re looking for in your centre partnership. Are you looking for all-out attack or are you looking for solidity first and then to build your attacking game thereafter?

“I think it’s a game you could probably go for a bit more attacking flair, where you’d be hopeful you’d be able to contain what the Italians might throw at you. So I think at the moment it’s probably Bundee and Garry to start. If I was picking it I’d probably go that route.”

As for the back three conundrum, O'Driscoll wishes he was privy to Ireland's training sessions, but believes it's an ideal game to introduce either Hugo Keenan or Shane Daly alongside Andrew Conway and Jacob Stockdale.

“You know with Jacob what you’re going to get. I personally think he’s better on the wing. I think he’s better when he’s less time to think about what he is going to do. I think he’s an instinctive attacker. Yes he has had a few issues with defensive reads but that’s a confidence thing and understanding during the week exactly the system and so on.

“It’s a really tough one. I’d have loved to have seen training for the last few weeks and seen who’s really stepped up to the plate because that’s what the decision will be based on rather than just what we’ve seen.”

O'Driscoll is particularly intrigued to see whether Jamison Gibson-Park or Kieran Marmion makes the match-day squad, although he believes Conor Murray should still be first choice.

“So many people say Conor Murray hasn’t performed for years, (but) you’ve to understand the calm he brings to players around him. A guy who’s been there and done it, even though he’s not at the top of his game at the moment, there’s a huge comfort in what he delivers.

“There is no panic, ever. Have you ever seen Conor Murray overreacting to a situation? No. And I think the guys who have been there for a long time and soldiered with him realise what he brings. It’s an intangible that adds a huge, quantifiable amount to his selection.”

O’Driscoll and Sene Naoupu have teamed up with Guinness to announce a partnership with Canterbury, Elverys and the IRFU in support of the sale of the newly released Irish Women’s jerseys across its retail sites; the Guinness Webstore and Guinness Open Gate Brewery.

Naoupu also endorsed having the crest changed on the women’s jersey to replicate the men’s.

“We’re the same family in Irish rugby. It’s equal opportunity for the girls and women in sport and certainly in rugby, and this is a positive step in the right direction and ultimately the jersey is our archetype and what we play for and what we represent. That’s why it’s really cool to come on board with Guinness, and this what it’s all about, the visibility of it.”