Schmidt ponders switches but Ireland XV may be unchanged for Scotland

The temptation is there to experiment, but Ireland require victory on Saturday.

IRELAND HAVE A little momentum behind them after running nine tries past a desperately poor Italy team last weekend and one senses that Joe Schmidt might be loath to change his XV for Saturday’s final round Six Nations tie against Scotland.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt is facing into another must-win game. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

With no serious injuries reported after the 58-15 success in the Aviva Stadium, aside from calf tightness for captain Rory Best, Schmidt may opt to stick with the same 15 players who tore the Italians apart for this Saturday’s 5pm kick-off.

Rob Kearney’s ongoing hamstring problems mean Simon Zebo is nailed-on to retain the 15 shirt, while Keith Earls and Andrew Trimble both showed their quality with the multitude of front-foot ball Ireland enjoyed last weekend.

Certainly, Craig Gilroy will still be hoping for an international opportunity, but Saturday’s Test with Scotland remains a must-win for Ireland if they are to earn third place in the final Six Nations table. It would not be trademark Schmidt to make such a change now.

In that sense, Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne continuing in midfield makes most sense, though it does seem disappointing that Stuart McCloskey’s only chance in this championship might have been that debut against England.

Such is Johnny Sexton’s form that it would be a shame to see him rested at this stage, while Conor Murray has hit a similar vein.

With Scotland’s scrum having been a real strong point in recent weeks, Jack McGrath and Mike Ross are the sensible choices in propping positions, while captain Rory Best will start if he recovers from his tight calf in time.

Fergus McFadden Fergus McFadden showed the value of versatility on the bench against Italy. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Donnacha Ryan and Devin Toner delivered their best performances of the tournament last weekend and though Ultan Dillane is a hugely exciting proposition, he may have to continue to wait for his starting chance in Ireland’s green.

The back row has a settled and complimentary look to it at this point, with Jamie Heaslip and CJ Stander both on the scoresheet against Italy and Josh van der Flier showing improvement after his debut against England. Schmidt might be slow to break them up.

“I think it’s a case of having a look at the team and seeing how guys come through,” said Ireland assistant coach Richie Murphy today when asked about this week’s selection.

We have a week’s turnaround, whereas [before Italy] we had two weeks off, so picking a very similar team [to the England game] was very, very easy. It’s about seeing how guys come through lumps and bumps and seeing how training went.

“Today’s session was pretty good, the intensity was very high and guys looked ready to play again this week. There’s a couple of close calls, there was a couple of close calls last week before guys played. So those would be re-assessed today, guys will have a down day tomorrow and come back in and we select the team.”

It may prove to be that Ireland’s bench is the only place to see change, with Cian Healy and Eoin Reddan now back in contention after training fully today.

Jack O'Donoghue Jack O'Donoghue is part of Ireland's training squad. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Finlay Bealham did well off the bench against Italy on his debut last weekend, but Schmidt understands Healy’s ability to impact better than most. The Leinster man had shown strong signs of an upturn in form before last week’s ill-timed hamstring strain.

Reddan was impressive off the bench in the defeat to England at Twickenham as he added tempo, but then Connacht’s Kieran Marmion did the same against the Italians and is very much part of Ireland’s long-term future.

Other players including and not limited to Tommy O’Donnell, Rhys Ruddock, Paddy Jackson, McCloskey and Dave Kilcoyne will feel they have done enough to be given a chance, either from the off or as replacements.

Though it would appear Ireland don’t have a huge amount to play for against the Scots and an experimental line-up might be tempting, third place in the championship would mean an additional lump sum in the region of €1 million for the IRFU.

Furthermore, putting out a settled team including many of the men who are likely to start the first Test against South Africa in June would also allow those players to build on last weekend’s win and generate further momentum and confidence.

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Murray Kinsella

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