Gibson-Park likely to keep Murray out of Ireland XV for Murrayfield trip

Possible changes in frontrow could see Cian Healy and Rob Herring return

Barring any last-minute hitches akin to the troubled last 24 hours before the team announcement against France in round two, Andy Farrell and his coaching ticket have a strong hand to pick from for Sunday's game away to Scotland (kick-off 3pm).

For example, Jamison Gibson-Park being retained ahead of the fit-again Conor Murray would seemingly be one of a number of difficult calls. The starting XV and replacements will be announced around noon on Friday and the signs are that Farrell and co will stick with Gibson-Park for his third start in succession.

Murray was withdrawn from the starting line-up to play France shortly before the team was announced due to the hamstring problem which also ruled him out of the 48-10 win over Italy in Rome a fortnight ago.

The coaching staff made seven changes in personnel and one positional switch for the game in the Stadio Olimpico, partly due to some key men returning, such as captain Johnny Sexton and James Ryan.


But Farrell also said it was partly due to a need to afford some players game time, and it seems likely that there might be a continuing element of rotation again, especially in the frontrow.

This could well see Cian Healy returning at loosehead and Dave Kilcoyne reverting to the bench, even though the latter went well in what was only his second Six Nations start. Similarly, and with a less than promising weather forecast underlining the importance of the set-piece, it may be that Rob Herring will also be reinstated at hooker with Rónan Kelleher among the replacements.

It remains to be seen if this dual change will detract from the ball-carrying which helped to repeatedly present the Irish backs with a fairly steady stream of go-forward ball from the outset in Rome. Either way though, Ireland are sure to have plenty of impact from their frontrow replacements, not to mention Ryan Baird and Jack Conan, given an otherwise unchanged pack.

Once again it will be another tight call between Jordan Larmour and Keith Earls, and mindful of the potentially inclement Edinburgh weather, it may be that the latter's greater experience will be employed from the off.

Despite Jacob Stockdale's return to fitness and recall to the squad, it would be a surprise if the coaches do not persist with the investment in James Lowe, not least given how important his long-distance kicking might be. In which case, Stockdale may miss out on the '23' altogether.

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

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

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times