James Lowe could make a return for Ireland. Billy Stickland/INPHO
j lowe

Sexton set to start on 100th Ireland cap with Lowe in line for recall

Andy Farrell is set to go with a strong XV for the visit of Japan.

LAST UPDATE | Nov 3rd 2021, 7:58 PM

IRELAND HEAD COACH Andy Farrell is set to name a strong, experienced team for Saturday’s November Test against Japan in Dublin as he looks to build momentum ahead of the visit of the All Blacks in two weekends’ time.

Johnny Sexton is expected to captain the side from out-half on the occasion of his 100th Ireland cap, while Lions players such as Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, Jack Conan, and Tadhg Beirne are set to return.

Farrell could also hand James Lowe a recall on the left wing. The Leinster man made his Test debut in the autumn of 2020 and went on to start the first four games of Ireland’s 2021 Six Nations campaign before being dropped for their final clash with England.

Lowe missed out on possible involvement in the July Tests against the US and Japan due to injury but his big left boot and attacking skills mean he is in line to win his seventh Ireland cap this weekend as the Brave Blossoms visit Dublin again.

Ireland’s back three combination should also include incumbent fullback Hugo Keenan, who has been one of Ireland’s best players over the past year.

On the right wing, Farrell has been weighing up a call between the experienced Keith Earls and his Munster team-mate Andrew Conway.

With Robbie Henshaw injured, Farrell seems likely to go with Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose in midfield, giving his most experienced pairing a chance to play together before the visit of the All Blacks the following weekend.

Indeed, that huge sold-out clash against New Zealand will naturally already be on Farrell’s mind and his selection this week is likely to be very similar to the one for the All Blacks game, the hope being that his players can pick up form with a win over Japan. Farrell also appreciates the threat posed by Jamie Joseph’s side this weekend. 

Joey Carbery is set to offer out-half back-up for Sexton from the bench, while Jamison Gibson-Park could be named to start at scrum-half with Conor Murray among the replacements having only played 22 minutes of rugby for Munster so far this season.

Up front, Farrell will have been tempted to start Andrew Porter and Tadhg Furlong in the Ireland front row together, with the former having made the switch to loosehead prop this season with Leinster. Cian Healy does, however, provide a proven loosehead option with the potential for Porter to be sprung from the bench.

There is a big call to confirm at hooker, with the lineout accuracy and breakdown quality of Rob Herring up against the athleticism and skill of Rónan Kelleher, while the explosive, uncapped Leinster man Dan Sheehan is also a genuine contender for this matchday 23.

In the second row, Farrell can pick from three top-quality locks in Iain Henderson, James Ryan, and Tadhg Beirne, while his back row options are also strong.

Jack Conan started three Tests for the Lions over the summer and is favourite to wear the number eight shirt, but Farrell is a fan of Caelan Doris’ complete skillset, while Munster’s Gavin Coombes is pressing for a start after winning his first two Test caps in July.

Beirne is a second row option but can also play in the back row, as he did on the Lions tour during the summer, and he was extremely impactful for Ireland in the 2021 Six Nations. His lineout, breakdown, and handling skills are valued by Farrell.

Josh van der Flier or Peter O’Mahony could feature in the number seven shirt, although the Leinster man’s excellent form and dynamism may see him get the nod in that area.

Farrell is due to officially name his matchday 23 to face Japan tomorrow afternoon.

Possible Ireland XV (v Japan):

15. Hugo Keenan
14. Keith Earls/Andrew Conway
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Bundee Aki
11. James Lowe
10. Johnny Sexton (captain)
9. Jamison Gibson-Park

1. Andrew Porter/Cian Healy
2. Rob Herring
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Iain Henderson
5. James Ryan
6. Tadhg Beirne
7. Josh van der Flier
8. Jack Conan. 

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