JOE SCHMIDT NAMED his 34-man Ireland squad for the November Series last Wednesday as he eyes up three Test matches against higher ranked sides.
Samoa and Australia are up first at Lansdowne Road but the stand-out tie is the visit of New Zealand for a 24 November clash. There may be injuries and call-ups along the way and there were weekend injury scares for Paul O’Connell and Keith Earls.
However, based on Schmidt’s squad, our writers have selected the best Ireland XV they feel can capture their first Test over New Zealand in 28 attempts.
R Kearney, K Earls, BOD, L Marshall, T Bowe; J Sexton, C Murray: C Healy, R Best, M Ross; D Tuohy, P O’Connell; S O’Brien, C Henry, J Heaslip.
I don’t think there is much room for discussion with the back-line, Simon Zebo’s injury and the exclusion of Luke Fitzgerald, Craig Gilroy and Andrew Trimble make the back three a sure thing and Gordon D’Arcy’s form hasn’t been good enough to displace Luke Marshall in the centre.
Luke Marshall tells Brian O’Driscoll what’s what. INPHO/Colm O’Neill
Second and back row are where the most difficult decision come: I’ve gone with Dan Tuohy to partner Paul O’Connell as he is in better form than his Leinster counterparts and also has that hard-edged mindset needed to take on NZ.
In the back row I’ve been extremely harsh in dropping Peter O’Mahony in favour of two and a half number 7s in the hope of fighting breakdown fire with fire.
R Kearney, K Earls, BOD, L Marshall, T Bowe; J Sexton, C Murray: C Healy, R Best, M Ross; D Tuohy, P O’Connell; P O’Mahony, S O’Brien, J Heaslip.
I’d go for exactly the same selection as Sean, except O’Mahony gets the start at 6 in my team. Tuohy gets in just ahead of McCarthy for that aggressive edge he’s brought for Ulster this season. That’s the same reason O’Mahony’s in my team and his carrying does look to be stronger this season, which is another plus.
In the backs, Luke Marshall and BOD could create magic in the centre, while the back three picks itself in my eyes. Our halfback pairing is a real strength now and the hope is that they’ll guide Ireland to a first-ever win against the best team in the world.
R Kearney, T Bowe, BOD, G D’Arcy, K Earls; J Sexton, C Murray: C Healy, R Best, M Ross; P O’Connell, M McCarthy; P O’Mahony, S O’Brien, J Heaslip.
I am going with the O’Driscoll-D’Arcy axis that has served Ireland so well over the past decade. Luke Marshall may change my mind if given the chance by Schmidt but D’Arcy has one fine international season left in him and was immense in the narrow second Test defeat to New Zealand in Christchurch last year.
The beard is a new touch but there is life in veteran centre D’Arcy yet. INPHO/Dan Sheridan
I am resisting Dan Tuohy’s claims, despite his great form of late, to go for Mike McCarthy as we will need his tenacious talents at the coalface. O’Brien has started off the season really well at openside so I’ll leave him there while hoping Rory Best can bring his provincial form to bear against the world’s finest team.
What do you think? What Irish team would you pick to take on the All Blacks?
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