Kearney and Ringrose back in the mix as Schmidt considers changes

The Ireland head coach has some big calls to make ahead of the All Blacks clash.

IRELAND ARE DUE to welcome Rob Kearney and Garry Ringrose back into full training today as Joe Schmidt looks to nail down his team selection for this weekend’s clash with the All Blacks.

As has been well flagged this month, the Ireland boss has enviable options in a number of positions and making decisions in some areas will be demanding.

Garry Ringrose scores Ireland's seventh try Ringrose is set to return this weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The expected return of Kearney from a shoulder issue looks well-timed after Jordan Larmour showed that he is understandably still learning at this level in Saturday’s win over Argentina.

Though the 21-year-old beat five defenders and didn’t shirk any responsibility, there were errors in his aerial display.

It would, therefore, be no surprise to see Kearney back in Ireland’s 15 shirt this weekend, while Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls are favourites to continue on the wings.

Ringrose is set to be available again after a hip complaint last week and looks likely to come back into the 13 jersey, from where he offers a creative streak and defensive intelligence.

Robbie Henshaw’s hamstring is a concern after he pulled out of the Argentina game having felt the tweak during the warm-up, but if he comes through, a centre partnership with Ringrose is a strong possibility.

If Henshaw is ruled out – and even if he isn’t – Bundee Aki is a powerful alternative in the 12 shirt.

Johnny Sexton will be keen to bounce back from an uncharacteristically mixed performance against Argentina at out-half, while Ireland’s number nine shirt is surrounded by intrigue.

All Blacks boss Steve Hansen reckons Conor Murray will play, while Schmidt says it’s up to the player himself to make a call, but it would be truly remarkable if the Munster scrum-half comes straight back into Ireland’s XV for his first appearance since June.

Kieran Marmion scores his sides first try Marmion scored against the Pumas. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

If not, Kieran Marmion is vying with Luke McGrath, with the latter making an impression off the bench against Argentina after the Connacht man had started alongside Sexton.

The destructive propping pair of Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong are nailed-on to start against the All Blacks and though captain Rory Best was superb in the scrum too, he is likely to feel he can be more accurate and impactful around the pitch this weekend.

James Ryan looks a certainty as Ireland’s tighthead lock, but the other second row spot is competitive, to say the least. Iain Henderson brings consistent strength around the pitch but his calling of Ireland’s lineout wasn’t faultless against Argentina and Ireland lost two restarts in his receiving zone.

Devin Toner’s calm influence did look to be missed at times and he impressed off the bench, so it would be no great shock if he came back into the starting XV.

Tadhg Beirne’s sheer dynamism is hard to ignore as a bench option for Ireland, although it would be tough on Henderson or Toner to miss out on the matchday squad.

Peter O’Mahony was superb at blindside flanker against the Pumas and is a key leader for Ireland, making him a clear starter for the All Blacks clash.

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The openside slot is tough to call after Sean O’Brien’s broken arm, with Dan Leavy impressing off the bench but Josh van der Flier having more game time under his belt and a fine record of delivering under Schmidt, including against the All Blacks.

Peter O'Mahony and Matias Orlando O'Mahony will be a key leader again this weekend. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Jordi Murphy is another option for Schmidt there, although a combination of Leavy and van der Flier over the course of the 80 minutes looks explosive.

Number eight CJ Stander grew into the Argentina game and made some important impacts in the tackle and carry, while Jack Conan has been pushing hard as the next in line in this position.

Possible Ireland team: Rob Kearney; Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Jacob Stockdale; Johnny Sexton, Kieran Marmion; Cian Healy, Rory Best (captain), Tadhg Furlong; Devin Toner, James Ryan; Peter O’Mahony, Dan Leavy, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter, Tadhg Beirne, Josh van der Flier, Luke McGrath, Joey Carbery, Jordan Larmour.

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Murray Kinsella

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