Ireland likely to make three changes for Scotland clash
Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson to return, Garry Ringrose set to replace Chris Farrell
Chris Farrell and Garry Ringrose: the latter is expected to replace the injured Munster centre in the Ireland team to play Scotland at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
It’s a measure of Ireland’s strength in depth that, despite Chris Farrell joining Robbie Henshaw on the casualty list, they can welcome back Garry Ringrose as well as reinstate two Lions forwards when Joe Schmidt unveils his hand for the visit of Scotland at lunchtime today.
As well as Ringrose, the Ireland head coach is expected to recall the fit-again duo of Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson to Ireland’s starting line-up to face the Scots at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 2.15pm).
Presuming everyone else is fit and good to go, this would mean three changes from the side which kicked off the 37-27 win against Wales last Saturday week. The ripple effect is likely to see Andrew Porter and Devin Toner revert to the bench, with John Ryan and Quinn Roux missing out.
Whereas Farrell’s ability to steam onto flat skip passes by Conor Murray and generate quick ball over the gain line was a successful ploy against Wales, Ringrose’s footwork and acceleration will bring a different dimension to Ireland’s attacking game. Such has been the attrition rate in the Irish midfield since the Gordon D’Arcy-Brian O’Driscoll years, that the Bundee Aki-Ringrose partnership would be the 25th different midfield combination in Schmidt’s tenure.
Ringrose, who played every minute of last year’s Six Nations, is in line for his first Irish start since the Japan tour last June. Since then, shoulder and ankle injuries have restricted him to only six games with Leinster this season, and only one since January 6th, when playing 54 minutes of Leinster’s win over the Southern Kings a fortnight ago.
Perhaps more relevantly though, the 23-year-old outside centre was training with the Irish squad on the Tuesday before the Wales game and all this week, which will have brought him up to speed even more than the hit-out against the Kings.
Andy Farrell and Keith Earls have been amongst those who have said Ringrose has been tearing it up in training, and speaking after last week’s open session in the Aviva, before the full extent of Farrell’s injury was known, Schmidt said of Ringrose: “It’s great to have him back in there. I thought he was really sharp in training today and he was good against the Kings, so he’s hit the ground running. He’s a smart player as well as a really good athlete.”
Well though Porter acquitted himself in his first Six Nations start against Wales, the anticipated return of both Furlong and Henderson would be a significant boost. Each has suffered hamstring injuries in the win over Italy three weeks ago, Furlong’s forcing him off in the fourth minute and Henderson at half-time.
Furlong’s stock has risen in tandem with his all-action performances in the last 18 months, to the point where he was the starting tight-head for the Lions in all three Tests against the All Blacks – as well as Ireland.
Henderson was a victim of a leg-weary, jet-lagged start to the Lions’ tour opener against the Provincial Barbarians in Whangarei and the uber competitiveness of the second row, but thereafter was consistently excellent for the midweek team. One of the few Ulster players to impress in a rapidly unravelling season, in tandem with James Ryan he provides real dynamism to the Irish second row.
The other areas of contention include the back row and utility backs’ slots on the bench. Jordi Murphy’s versatility and abilities at the breakdown could see him promoted, while as for the latter, thus far it has rotated between Fergus McFadden, who was amongst the replacements against France and Wales, and Jordan Larmour, who made his debut as a second-half substitute against Italy. It could be that Larmour’s X- factor will see him reinstated.
Meanwhile, Gregor Townsend has made one enforced change to his Scotland starting line-up. Glasgow and Lions wing Tommy Seymour has been ruled out with injury and Townsend has opted for Edinburgh’s 21-year-old Blair Kinghorn, nominally a full-back, to earn his first international start. He made his test debut from the bench for the last 15 minutes of the 25-13 Calcutta Cup win over England a fortnight ago.
Glasgow hooker Fraser Brown has returned from injury to take a place on the bench ahead of Scott Lawson, while wing Lee Jones is also among the substitutes.
“We were delighted with the result against England and backing up our win against France with an improved performance,” said Townsend.
“The intent we showed in attack and defence in the first half was very encouraging and we continued to work hard in the second half. The effort that went into denying England a second try in the closing minutes was great to see. Our players had prepared very well for the challenge of taking on England and there has been a similar focus and commitment this week at training.”
“There are a few areas of our game that we are working to improve and we are aware that we will have to be better if we are to beat a very good Ireland side in Dublin.”
IRELAND (possible): R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best (capt), T Furlong; J Ryan, I Henderson; P O’Mahony, D Leavy, CJ Stander.
Replacements: S Cronin, J McGrath, A Porter, D Toner, J Murphy, K Marmion, J Carbery, J Larmour.
SCOTLAND: S Hogg; B Kinghorn, H Jones, P Horne, S Maitland; F Russell, G Laidlaw; G Reid, S McInally, S Berghan; G Gilchrist, J Gray; J Barclay (capt), H Watson, R Wilson.
Replacements: F Brown, J Bhatti, WP Nel, T Swinson, D Denton, A Price, N Grigg, L Jones.