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Farrell facing some big selection decisions for Ireland's trip to Twickenham

There are conundrums across several areas of the pitch after the win over Wales.

Farrell speaks to his Ireland squad before Friday's win over Wales.
Farrell speaks to his Ireland squad before Friday's win over Wales.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

HAVING MADE SEVEN changes to his starting XV for Friday night’s win over Wales, Ireland head coach Andy Farrell now faces some big selection decisions for next weekend’s trip to face England in the Autumn Nations Cup.

The Ireland boss is likely to factor in the poor quality of the Welsh performance when assessing his options but there is no doubt he got a response from several players he had challenged to make an impression.

Now, Farrell must make big calls in each area of the team for the clash with Eddie Jones’ powerful England side.

Front row 

Cian Healy and Andrew Porter are certainties to start in the propping positions again, fitness permitting.

Finlay Bealham’s lively performance off the bench on Friday night could keep him ahead of John Ryan as the back-up tighthead, while Ed Byrne is set for cap number four as the replacement loosehead.

Farrell’s decision at hooker will be interesting. Rob Herring has been the first-choice hooker for most of 2020 and has done well, but 22-year-old Ronan Kelleher is the more explosive athlete.

Kelleher made his first Test start against Wales and will have been frustrated with two lineout throws going awry but he was in contact and part of an Irish scrum that came out on top. 

Herring might be the safer bet but 22-year-old Kelleher would benefit hugely from being backed. Connacht man Dave Heffernan is in the mix too and has been energetic off the bench.

Second row

Having captained Ireland for the first time at senior level after Johnny Sexton’s departure on Friday, as well as taking over the running of the lineout at late notice when Iain Henderson dropped out, James Ryan’s stature in this squad continues to grow.

quinn-roux Quinn Roux did well on Friday night. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

It remains to be seen if Henderson will be fit for Twickenham after being ruled out of the Wales game due to “a medical issue” but Quinn Roux had perhaps his best game for Ireland after coming in as the Ulsterman’s replacement against Wales.

The bulky Roux is a strong scrummager and highly aggressive in his carrying, tackling, and ruck work, meaning he could be suited to this game against England.

That said, Tadhg Beirne was impressive for Ireland in the Six Nations games against Italy and France. The Munster man’s mobility and jackal threat are valuable in any contest. Meanwhile, Ultan Dillane offers possible dynamism off the bench. 

Back row

CJ Stander looks nailed-on to come back into the team, while Caelan Doris is swiftly becoming an important player for Ireland as he continues to learn about Test rugby.

Whatever jersey numbers they wear, both look like being crucial in London.

The third back row slot will, as always, depend on how Farrell wants to approach this game. Peter O’Mahony was impressive against Wales as he brought a confrontational edge and excelled in the lineout once again. 

Will Connors gave a nice reminder of his qualities off the bench as he delivered two stunning chop tackles and also offloaded skillfully on one occasion. He would be the man to stop English attacking momentum.

Josh van der Flier didn’t quite manage to stand out against the Welsh but Farrell is a fan of the energy the Leinster man consistently brings.

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Scrum-half

Jamison Gibson-Park impressed on his first Test start against Wales, with some excellent quick-fire service and clever pass selection, as well as some heads-up sniping around the ruck to ask questions of the Welsh defence. 

conor-murray-kicks-a-conversion-to-end-the-game Conor Murray came off the bench at out-half against Wales. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

However, the Leinster man kicked poorly at times and England would likely be quicker to punish that waywardness than Wales were. 

Farrell will obviously be tempted to go back to Conor Murray’s superior kicking game, defensive qualities, and experience for the visit to Twickenham. The 31-year-old showed his enduring composure with a solid 15 minutes at out-half on Friday night and would likely also have had some fun against this weak Welsh team if he had started at nine.

Back Gibson-Park’s creativity on the big occasion? Or bring Murray back in for a tried-and-trusted approach? This is a big call.

Out-half

Farrell will hope Johnny Sexton’s hamstring strain isn’t serious enough to keep him out of this clash with England, even if injuries in that part of the body rarely clear up in a matter of days.

Taking on the Six Nations champions without their skipper and talisman would obviously be a huge blow for Ireland but this Autumn Nations Cup was always going to be a platform for Farrell to learn more about his squad, even if he would prefer it not to be forced on him.

Billy Burns made his debut off the bench as Sexton’s replacement against Wales on Friday but was later forced off with a head injury, prompting Murray to fill in at out-half.

Eight-times capped Ross Byrne appears to still be second in the pecking order, having backed up Sexton previously this year. He had a disappointing cameo off the bench against France two weekends ago but would love a chance to start at Twickenham again, having been part of the hammering Ireland received there before last year’s World Cup.

Jack Carty isn’t part of the Autumn Nations Cup but could be called up if Sexton is struggling.

Centres

Bundee Aki is one of the most powerful athletes in the Ireland squad and, with the onslaught that awaits next Saturday in mind, looks well suited to the task.

bundee-aki Bundee Aki could be in line for a return. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Robbie Henshaw and Chris Farrell got over the gainline against the Welsh on Friday but there is no doubt Aki would have done much the same.

Munster’s Farrell would clearly benefit from back-to-back starts in the number 13 shirt but Farrell will definitely be tempted to go back to a pairing of Aki and Henshaw for this one.

Back three

Jacob Stockdale was ruled out of the Wales game with a calf injury and it remains to be seen if he returns to the mix for the England trip.

James Lowe looks certain to retain his place on the left wing after a promising debut, while Hugo Keenan looks the likely pick at fullback again if Stockdale isn’t fit.

Keith Earls made his comeback from injury off the bench on Friday night and though he didn’t have great opportunity to show his class, Farrell might be tempted to give him a start against the English.

Andrew Conway had some positive involvements, including two skillful overhead catches, but would have been disappointed with a couple of moments in attack. The Munster man was superb for Ireland last season but hasn’t sparked in recent games.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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