Andy Farrell hands Billy Burns first Ireland start against Georgia
James Ryan captains the side again as Stuart McCloskey is picked to start in midfield
Autumn Nations Cup: Ireland v Georgia, Sunday November 29th, Aviva Stadium (kick-off 2pm, RTE One, Channel 4)
Following England’s resounding victory over Ireland last weekend at Twickenham, Ross Byrne and Jamison Gibson Park are dropped from Andy Farrell’s team to face Georgia this Sunday at the Aviva stadium.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” said Farrell in response to heavy criticism from former Irish international Shane Horgan, particularly about the performances of James Lowe and Byrne in London. “Nobody gave us a chance before we went to England anyway but we came away with an 18-7 loss when we all know what happened in the game.
“We probably lost our way at times. But that’s what pressure does to you.”
Lowe (adductor) and Andrew Conway (hamstring) were ruled out this week due to injury.
Farrell repeated the “priceless experience” line of losing at Twickenham twice in 2020.
“Ross and James and many more will get priceless learnings from that.”
Bundee Aki and Caelan Doris are also excluded from the 23-man squad but that appears to be a rotational decision as Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey and Munster lock Tadhg Beirne are given an opportunity. Beirne will start at blindside flanker.
With Johnny Sexton injured, Billy Burns wears number 10 ahead of Byrne, who is retained on the bench alongside Peter O’Mahony, Cian Healy and Quinn Roux.
“It’s a chance for Billy to run the show for the first time,” said Farrell. “It is his opportunity to grab a hold of the team so we are excited about that. Obviously that builds a little bit of experience in that position as well.”
Connacht scrumhalf Kieran Marmion returns as cover for Conor Murray while Munster fullback Shane Daly should win his first cap from the replacements.
Farrell also recalls Jacob Stockdale and Iain Henderson - both late withdrawals from the Wales game two weeks ago - at fullback and lock.
Henderson is expected to relieve the pressure on James Ryan, who captains Ireland for the second time, especially when it comes to fixing a malfunctioning lineout.
An injury crisis at prop sees Finlay Bealham, a tighthead, named at loosehead despite Andrew Porter, a loosehead, starting at tighthead.
“Finlay Bealham at loosehead is something we have been thinking about for a while,” Farrell explained. “And others in that area, because we need a bit of background in that area. Finlay has been in fine form.”
Farrell, in response to a direct question about Porter’s long term future, at either loose or tighthead prop - he switched over in 2017 to cover for the currently injured Tadhg Furlong - said: “There has been a bit of debate about that as you would know. Again, with injuries in his position at tighthead he has been number one.
“It has always been in our mind, the option to swap him over, but at this moment in time he is 100 per cent our number one tighthead, obviously with Tadhg being injured.”
What about long term?
“We’ll see what the future brings. We’ll see how other people come through in the tighthead position. Tom O’Toole was involved with us previously, but he has been out for a long time
“We’ve got to roll with the punches.”
If Daly comes on Farrell will have handed out 10 new caps in 2020 with one more game to come next week.
“We are obviously a small playing pool and with a small playing pool you are always one or two injuries away from a crisis.”
In that sense, Ireland are currently dealing with a crisis at prop, centre, outhalf and the back three as Andrew Conway is unfit.
Of the young players, like Harry Byrne and Craig Casey, who are performing for their provinces in the Pro 14, Farrell believes that is the best place for them.
“Hopefully in the not too distant future they will play in some European or big derby games and we can judge them on that.”
Ireland: Jacob Stockdale; Hugo Keenan, Chris Farrell, Stuart McCloskey, Keith Earls; Billy Burns, Conor Murray; Finlay Bealham, Rob Herring, Andrew Porter; Iain Henderson, James Ryan (capt); Tadhg Beirne, Will Connors, CJ Stander. Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Cian Healy, John Ryan, Quinn Roux, Peter O’Mahony, Kieran Marmion, Ross Byrne, Shane Daly.