Six Nations: Tadhg Beirne starts for Ireland against Wales
Joe Schmidt makes three changes with Rob Kearney and Seán O’Brien also returning
Cian Healy, Tadhg Beirne and James Ryan all start against Wales. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt spins the wheel one last time in the Six Nations with Seán O’Brien and Tadhg Beirne fully recuperated and charged with denying Wales a third Grand Slam under Warren Gatland this Saturday in Cardiff.
The scene is set: Schmidt and Gatland take their leave of this ancient tournament with one final showdown as Beirne’s Six Nations debut comes in the country that resurrected his career.
“Tadhg knows his former Scarlets teammates very well,” said Schmidt before Ireland depart for Cardiff. “He’s a ready as we can get him to be at this stage. I know he is incredibly motivated.”
The Kildare man will seek to terrorise the Welsh by slowing or stealing their possession. The Munster lock has been denied a clear run for Ireland this year after suffering knee damage against Exeter Chiefs in January.
Iain Henderson has been ruled out with a sprained knee, and remains a doubt for Ulster’s Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster in two weeks, so the lineout calling falls into new hands.
“The big fella next to me will run the lineout,” said Schmidt nudging James Ryan who takes this responsibility for the first time in an international match (he called the lineout this season against Munster and Toulouse).
“I’ve learned plenty off Hendy and Dev Toner over the last season or two,” said the 22 year old. “It’s very much a shared responsibility. Tadhg calls with Munster and Pete [O’Mahony] has so much experience in that area and so does Rory Best. There will be plenty of communications along the line in that regard.”
O’Brien has also crept back to full fitness, after Schmidt dropping him for last week’s victory over France when Josh van der Flier was forced off injured. Dan Leavy, last year’s Grand Slam openside, is back in full training but this game comes too soon for the 24 year old tearaway so Jack Conan continues to cover the backrow.
“I think we saw evidence [of O’Brien’s return to form] against England with his first carry,” said Schmdit. “He looked formidable in the carry in that game. He got on the ball against Scotland a few times and was unlucky not to get more of it. Italy was a malaise for the whole team and to say that was not his best performance I think he would agree with that.
“He is motivated to get back to his blockbusting best, a player who has been incredibly influential in games for Ireland.
“We do believe that Seán fits the bill. We are expecting Seán to put his best foot forward.”
Other changes see resident fullback Rob Kearney shake off a tight calf to send Jordan Larmour back on the bench so Andrew Conway makes way. Kieran Marmion returns as scrumhalf cover in place of John Cooney. Andrew Porter is the tighthead sub once again and Quinn Roux makes the panel ahead of Connacht teammate Ultan Dillane.
Good news for Munster. On Joey Carbery, Schmidt added the outhalf was “incredibly close” to full recovery from a hamstring injury.
Ireland: R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best (capt), T Furlong; T Beirne, J Ryan; P O’Mahony, S O’Brien, CJ Stander. Replacements: N Scannell, D Kilcoyne, A Porter, Q Roux, J Conan, K Marmion, J Carty, J Larmour.