Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Here's the Ireland team we'd like to start the 2018 Six Nations

The international season is five weeks away, here’s who we’d pick to start in Paris.

YOU’LL NOT FIND it now. The New Year is with us so that means 2018′s first international rugby tournament will be kicking off in just five weeks’ time.

Here’s who we think fits the bill for that opening clash against France in Paris on 3 February.

15. Rob Kearney

Source: Bryan Keane

You’ll see a theme right through this selection, the most proven and reliable options take the nod over some of the x-factor options available. Rob Kearney was terrific during the November Tests against South Africa and Argentina.In a ferocious contest away to France, his experience and leadership will be vital.

14. Keith Earls

Looked set to light up November as he took brilliant form through Halloween, a hamstring injury opened the door for a few new rivals to try on his jersey, but Earls remains an explosive try-scoring threat for Ireland and, when fit, he can’t be left out.

13. Robbie Henshaw

There are plenty of centre options at Joe Schmidt’s disposal and against France it would make a lot of sense to deploy the same partnership that stood tall against South Africa. Henshaw may still often move in to 12 for Leinster, but every time he wears 13 he revesl in the freedom to make a wider impact around the field.

12. Bundee Aki

It’s going to be hard-hitting battle in Paris and Ireland will need to stock the team with players who won’t be drawn into the myth of Les Bleus. Aki’s physicality makes him a fantastic foil to bring Ireland through an attritional grapple with France, while his soft hands offer rich pickings for strike runners.

11. Jacob Stockdale

Source: Dan Sheridan

Ireland’s international break-out of 2017, Stockdale’s power and pace keep him firmly at the top rung of Irish wings.

10. Jonathan Sexton

Now for the easy selections at half-back. No question about it, Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray are a class apart in their positions. Let’s just keep everything crossed that they stay fit and well.

9. Conor Murray

Source: Billy Stickland

1. Cian Healy

He’s back to his best and trying to dig more out of himself. Healy turned from steady to stupendous in 2017, losing weight while adding mobility to his game to again deliver devastating carrying ability.

2. Rory Best (Capt.)

35 years of age, but his influence at the set-piece and breakdown remains absolute crucial in this Ireland pack.

There is a slight doubt over his fitness after he missed the Christmas inter-pros with a foot infection. However, with Niall Scannell not far ahead of him on the recovery trail, he’s pickable even if he doesn’t find fitness in time for the closing Champions Cup matches.

Source: Dan Sheridan

3. Tadhg Furlong

Another position with no debate, Furlong is the best tighthead in the world at the minute and everyone else on this island will have to scramble to be his back-up.

4. Iain Henderson

Has been asked to play blindside on Ulster duty to bolster the province’s options, but his best position (and the place Ireland most need him) is in the second row. His quality makes him a clear-cut first-choice in this slot and James Ryan’s injury will reduce the young lock’s chance to displace the Ulster man.

5. Devin Toner

Took a rare back seat to Henderson and James Ryan in Argentina, but the experiments of November are over and Toner is the consistent mainstay of Schmidt’s pack.

Source: Billy Stickland

6. Peter O’Mahony

With a new contract freshly-inked, Ireland will be able to put O’Mahony to work right through the World Cup. Schmidt’s team is always better for the presence of the Corkman. O’Mahony clearly brings a hard edge, but also exceptional line-out and breakdown technique.

7. Sean O’Brien

Source: Billy Stickland

We’ve been lucky for the majority of this century to look at our back row and marvel at the strength in depth. It’s needed, because the rate of injury in the high-impact position is frightening. If there was a full deck to choose from, there might be debates over the merits of CJ Stander compared with Peter O’Mahony at blindside (thankfully we can pick them both in this team) or Stander or Jack Conan against Jamie Heaslip, when Sean O’Brien is fit there is no one who should be picked ahead of him.

8. CJ Stander

Has rarely been anything less than exceptional when called upon to trudge through endless workloads for Ireland. At his best in that number eight jersey and his relationship with O’Mahony frees him up to damage and loosen up defensive lines.


16. Niall Scannell

17. Dave Kilcoyne

18. John Ryan

19. Ultan Dillane

Source: Bryan Keane

20. Dan Leavy

21. Kieran Marmion

22. Ian Keatley

23. Garry Ringrose

Source: Ryan Byrne

‘The days I thought I wouldn’t play again, they were the toughest’

After losing the Six Nations, RTÉ retain rights for Ireland’s November Tests