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Toner locked out again and more talking points from Ireland's XV to kick off Six Nations

Luke McGrath and Fergus McFadden have benefitted from Leinster’s imperious form to earn a place among the replacements.

JOE SCHMIDT THIS afternoon named his team to kick off the 2018 Six Nations campaign in Paris. You can view the full line-up here, and below are some of our immediate reactions to the selections.

Time after Toner

Schmidt flagged as long ago as last March that he was thinking of a time without Devin Toner.

Devin Toner Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The giant Meathman has been a truly totemic presence throughout the Kiwi’s time in charge of Ireland. Never dropped, he was only absent when given well-earned rests for a game here and there. Until the Six Nations finale against England last year, the biggest match Toner had sat out for Ireland was the World Cup pool meeting with Italy. This Saturday will make it three out of the last four tier one matches where Toner has been benched.

Against England, Schmidt had the grizzled presence of Donnacha Ryan to fall back on. James Ryan is quite a different sort of replacement.

The younger Ryan, who made his Test debut before winning his first Leinster cap early this season, has started just five times for his province. Given Toner remains ahead of Ryan in the provincial pecking order, this selection has all the hallmarks of a pick for Japan 2019, fast-tracking the young master and simultaneously taking a little strain off Toner.

Back row resources soften O’Brien blow

A fit and well Sean O’Brien remains one of the most important and, arguably, best players Ireland are able to unleash. But thanks to the emergence of Josh van der Flier and latterly Dan Leavy, there is no longer a cliff drop down to the next openside on the depth chart.

Josh van der Flier Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There remains hope that, after hip surgery last month, O’Brien will be available to play some part in the Six Nations. But with Leavy continually adding more big-game plays to his repertoire and Van der Flier relentlessly chasing tackles and influencing rucks, there is energy in abdundance to complement the Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander in Ireland’s back row.

Shadow 10

We had hoped to see Ian Keatley rewarded for his fine form with Munster by being named Jonathan Sexton’s deputy in Paris. Instead, the Joey Carbery conundrum continues.

Joey Carbery Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

After being targeted in no uncertain terms against Fiji, the 22-year-old returned from injury to play 22 minutes as out-half for Leinster in Montpellier. That invaluable quarter, plus 69 Test minutes in November remain Carbery’s only time as a 10 this season.

While there are many uncertainties to point to in this French outift, you can guarantee they will once again act like there’s a bounty on the head of Jonathan Sexton. If the out-half is taken out of the game by what promises to be a more voracious defensive effort from Les Bleus, the reins will pass to Carbery and neutrals will have reason to salivate as the precocious running threats of the Athy man and Mathieu Jalibert are pitted against one another.

Leinster dominance shows in replacements

 The eastern province bullied their way through what at first glance looked like a Champions Cup pool to push any team to their limit. Their six wins, including away in Montpellier with a youthful crop, gives Leinster the credentials to be tournament favourites.

That dominance is brought to bear on Schmidt’s replacements bench where John Ryan is the only man in the eight not under Leo Cullen’s tutelage.

Fergus McFadden and Cian Healy Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Some were straight shoot-outs, with Luke McGrath winning out over Kieran Marmion, but injury has played a part too. Dave Kilcoyne is unable to challenge the Healy-Jack McGrath duoploy while Andrew Conway has been struggling with a knock. That leaves Fergus McFadden free to take over the number 23 shirt after a period of terrific form ahead of team-mate Jordan Larmour.

McFadden brings many extra dimensions for Schmidt as he is a wing who loves doing the less glamorous work in and around works. The Kildare man is also another goal-kicking option alongside Sexton, Carbery and Conor Murray.

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Sean Farrell

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