Tadhg Beirne could be set for first Six Nations appearance in Cardiff

Seán O’Brien is also in line to come back into the team after being left out against France

Tadhg Beirne is tackled by Peter O’Mahony during Ireland training ahead of the Six Nations meeting with Wales. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Tadhg Beirne is tackled by Peter O’Mahony during Ireland training ahead of the Six Nations meeting with Wales. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

Six Nations: Wales v Ireland

Kick off: 2.45pm, Saturday. Venue: Principality Stadium. How to follow: The Irish Times liveblog will start at 2pm. On TV: Virgin Media One, BBC One.

Seán O’Brien could be in line for a return to the Irish starting XV to face Wales for the Guinness Six Nations finale at the Principality Stadium (kick-off 2.45pm), with Tadhg Beirne potentially set to made his Championship debut, when Joe Schmidt unveils his match-day 23 at lunchtime on Thursday.

O’Brien seems set to be named following the groin injury which forced Josh van der Flier’s withdrawal in the 24th minute of last Sunday’s 26-14 win over France at the Aviva Stadium and which has ruled him out of this game.

Having overcome the broken arm he sustained against Argentina last November, the Leinster, Lions and Ireland flanker had started the games against England, Scotland and Italy before being omitted from the matchday squad against France. But O’Brien could now be restored, and if so will be straining at the leash.

Apparently Iain Henderson has suffered a knee injury which has restricted him this week, thereby paving the way for Beirne to possibly earn his fifth cap, and his first in the Six Nations. The 27-year-old’s possible inclusion will also command interest in the Welsh camp given his excellent form in two seasons with the Scarlets, following which Beirne made his Irish debut in the second Test in Australia with a strong cameo off the bench, which he backed up in the third Test.

He scored two tries on his full Test debut in the win over Italy in Chicago and another in the Guinness Series finale against the USA. As his form continued to improve with Munster, Beirne seemed sure to make an impact in the Six Nations.

Aside from his athleticism and lineout skills, the one-time Leinster lock brings a voracious work ethic, excellent running and handling skills, good footwork and an eye for the tryline. And then there’s his brilliant poaching ability over the ball.

Alas, a knee injury in the final throes of a Man of the Match performance in Munster’s Heineken Cup win over Exeter in January was particularly ill-timed.

Now though, it seems as if Beirne may be pitched straight into the starting lineup against a Welsh side seeking a Grand Slam with Ireland still having a shot at retaining their title.

The likeliest change to the starting lineup should see the return, if deemed fully fit, of Rob Kearney, who was originally selected to play against France but was withdrawn due to the tightness in his calf which he felt after the captain’s run the day before the game.

The experienced fullback resumed training on Tuesday and his aerial skills will be all the more important considering the brilliance of Liam Williams, Dan Biggar and co.

Despite the six-day turnaround, Schmidt and his assistant coaches were helped by the commanding nature of last Sunday’s win, which enabled them to remove the frontrow and half-backs before the hour mark. Hence the rest of the team looks like being the same.

There remain some interesting selection posers, with the potential for further change amongst the replacements, not least with Dan Leavy back in the mix. The 24-year-old has been restricted to just one replacement appearance for Ireland this season, in the win over Argentina last November, and has not played in 11 weeks since his try-scoring appearance in Leinster’s win over Connacht at the RDS on December 22nd.

However, having been restored to the Irish squad for their three-day camp in Belfast after the round three win over Italy, Leavy was given the all-clear by the Irish squad’s S&C and medical staff and is considered back to full fitness.

After replacing the unfortunate van der Flier in the 37th minute of the dramatic opening day win over France last season, Leavy was a huge part of Ireland’s Grand Slam success, thereafter playing every minute.

However, after replacing van der Flier last Sunday, Jack Conan scored a try, made eight carries and led the tackle count with 16 despite being less than an hour on the pitch.

The Munster frontrow again seems set to be retained on the bench. Kieran Marmion and, if fully fit, Joey Carbery are pressing for inclusion, with Jordan Larmour likely to revert to bench duty.

Ireland (possible) v Wales: Rob Kearney; Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale; Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan, Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony, Seán O’Brien, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Niall Scannell, David Kilcoyne, John Ryan, Ultan Dillane, Jack Conan, Kieran Marmion, Jack Carty, Jordan Larmour.

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