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Dublin: 11°C Thursday 6 May 2021

Schmidt rotates, Zebo is a 15 and more Ireland XV talking points

Ireland’s head coach has opted to give all of his squad players a starting chance.

JOE SCHMIDT HAS named his team to face Romania at Wembley on Sunday (KO 4.45pm). Check out the matchday 23 in full here.

Bowe with ground to make up

Tommy Bowe gets an opportunity to give Schmidt a wing selection headache after his swift drop down the pecking order over the summer, one that ended with the Ulsterman under pressure for his place in the final 31-man squad.

Tommy Bowe Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The likes of Dave Kearney and Keith Earls have form out wide, while Bowe looked a shadow of his former self in Twickenham when Ireland were beaten in the warm-up clash against England.

Missed tackles, an uncharacteristic lack of decisiveness on the ball and aerially, it was a far cry from what Bowe is capable of. There is no better game than this one against Romania for the 31-year-old to have a final say in the wing selection race moving forward.

If Bowe can’t show his very best form in this game, his role for the remainder of the World Cup might be restricted to the training ground.

Healy makes full return

Ireland have been patient with their loosehead prop as he has made his comeback from neck surgery. There is still further strength to be built up in Healy’s right hand, but he is match ready and gets a timely start against the Romanians.

Cian Healy Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

One senses that Joe Schmidt understands the need for Healy to be a starter in the final pool clash against France on 11 October, a physical challenge that will be on a different scale to what has come beforehand.

In that sense, the Romania game is an ideal one for Healy to return to the XV, with Lyn Howells’ men reputed for their scrummaging ability. Fitness-wise, Healy needs a good 50-minute blowout to start moving towards readiness for that France fixture.

In terms of the collective, Healy brings a welcome ball-carrying boost and will allow Ireland to get over the gainline a little earlier in their phase attack. His breakdown threat has grown in recent years too, while the prop’s mobility is excellent.

Zebo is the fullback cover

One wonders what Simon Zebo makes of his latest start in the fullback position. Rob Kearney is the clear first-choice in that position moving forward, but Zebo most likely would have been eyeing up the left wing slot as his best chance of starting the big games.

Simon Zebo Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The 25-year-old is one of Ireland’s most creative players, so expect him to once again be used as a first receiver and passing hub when Ireland go through the phases, rather than simply waiting in the wide channels all day.

Both starts Zebo made in the World Cup warm-ups were at fullback, meaning he hasn’t had the opportunity to stake a left wing claim. Of course, his strong form in that role for Ireland last season won’t have been forgotten by Schmidt.

Still, others have had the more recent chances to shine out on the left and Zebo might be somewhat put out not to have had similar.

Madigan steers the ship

The sense coming into this World Cup was that Paddy Jackson would be Johnny Sexton’s direct replacement in the case of any injury to the first-choice 10, but that Ian Madigan would be the bench option throughout the tournament due to his versatility.

Ian Madigan Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Madigan’s selection at out-half for this meeting with Romania appears to disprove the theory, as Schmidt provides the Leinster man with scope to ensure his match readiness is sharp.

Jackson is restricted to a bench role for Sunday, as Schmidt looks to ensure his back-up out-half is sharp. Rugby is a 23-man game and Madigan is likely to have a vital part to play in this World Cup even if not as a starter.

Jackson understandably wasn’t at his best against Wales in Ireland’s first World Cup warm-up, the first game of the season and his most recent start, so expect him to deliver a more determined performance if and when he appears off the bench.

If Sexton and Madigan stay injury free, it might prove to be Jackson’s final appearance of the tournament.

Chances for all

Should Paddy Jackson and Tadhg Furlong be used off the bench on Sunday, as they almost certainly will be, Ireland will be left with only centre Robbie Henshaw as a non-used squad member at this World Cup.

Mike Ross and Darren Cave Darren Cave helps Mike Ross out at training. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Schmidt and his coaching staff spoke about their desire to give every player a chance in the opening two games and they have stayed true to their word. Henshaw, of course, was not fully fit to be selected this week.

His chance will come against Italy, hamstring permitting.

For the likes of Darren Cave, Tommy Bowe, Donnacha Ryan and Eoin Reddan, there is relief in Schmidt’s decision to rotate, providing them with opportunities to impress the Kiwi head coach.

The retention of Jamie Heaslip in the team as captain is sensible with Paul O’Connell moved to the bench, while Jared Payne is used again at 13 and Keith Earls gets another shot on the left wing.

What does that tell us about next week against Italy? Luke Fitzgerald and Dave Kearney are nowhere to be seen on this team sheet. Held back for the Italians?

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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