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Beirne offers bench impact as Henderson leads the Ireland lineout

All eyes will be on Jordan Larmour and Andrew Conway in Ireland’s back three against Scotland.

JOE SCHMIDT HAS confirmed his matchday 23 for Ireland’s opening World Cup clash with Scotland in Yokohama on Sunday [KO 8.45am Irish time].

You can view Schmidt’s squad here

Chances for Larmour and Conway

There is no dressing up the fact that being without Rob Kearney and Keith Earls – as well as Robbie Henshaw – is a major blow for Ireland. Simply put, those two experienced outside backs would be starting at 15 and 14 if fit and available.

andrew-conway Conway starts at 14 for Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Shorn of their calming influence, Schmidt has instead had to press Jordan Larmour and Andrew Conway into action, offering both of them huge opportunities on the biggest stage.

Larmour will wear the 15 shirt, having amassed considerably more game time at fullback for Ireland than Conway has, and will have a tough job on his hands controlling the backfield with the kind of assurance and alertness Kearney usually brings to that role.

It will be fascinating to see exactly how Ireland line up defensively, but it wouldn’t be a major surprise to see them use a 13+2 system, whereby two players are constantly patrolling the backfield. That would certainly ease any pressure on 22-year-old Larmour.

Conway is not exactly a young player at the age of 28, but having had to wait far longer for his Test debut than most people had expected, it still feels like this is a major chance for him to underline that he can cope and thrive at the highest level.

While Ireland are less experienced without Kearney and Earls, it’s also important to underline that Conway and Larmour add. They are incisive attacking players, with Larmour’s superb footwork offering Ireland the chance to be more effective on kick return and turnover possession.

Conway’s pace is as good as ever, his work-rate is immense, and his finishing is underrated. Aerially, he can be dominant when at his best.

Now, the pair of them must gel with the prolific Jacob Stockdale to limit Scotland’s threat in the backfield and out wide, as well as offering real threat going forward.

Henderson runs the lineout

There had been a sense in some quarters that Jean Kleyn was making a run towards starting this game for Ireland, but Iain Henderson and James Ryan looks like the second-row pairing that Schmidt has long had in his mind for the 2019 World Cup.

irelands-iain-henderson-after-the-match Iain Henderson is a key figure in the pack. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Ryan is shaping up to be one of the very best players in the tournament, despite being just 23, and Ireland fans are likely to delight in his explosive, intelligent and ceaseless contributions.

Alongside him, 27-year-old Henderson must now grab a firm grip on his status as a leader in this Ireland team. His ability has always been clear – he has 48 caps – but Schmidt will apply pressure on the Ulster lock to move to the next level in Japan.

Chief among his duties will be running the lineout, such an important source of possession for Schmidt’s Ireland. Indeed, 47% of their tries over the last two seasons have started with their own lineout throw.

The wobbles against England in that horror show of a warm-up game are still fresh in the memory for Ireland fans, as is the fact that Devin Toner – the lineout leader for years – is not part of this World Cup squad.

Forwards coach Simon Easterby will have been hard at work in this area and Henderson will have plenty of help from Ryan in the second row on Sunday. With a world-class lineout specialist like Peter O’Mahony in the back row, Henderson will have good options to call to, as he looks to thrive under the responsibility.

Beirne’s bench impact

Kleyn doesn’t make the bench for Ireland in this first outing, with Schmidt understandably opting for the versatile and impactful Tadhg Beirne in Ireland’s number 19 shirt.

The Munster man is the best breakdown specialist in the Ireland squad and will look to bring that to the game when called on, as well as offering his usual levels of mobility and ball-handling skill. Beirne is a classy lineout defender too, more than capable of stealing Scottish ball, and covers the second row and blindside flanker.

tadhg-beirne Beirne will bring impact off the bench. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland’s bench, even accounting for the injuries, has an exciting look to it.

Dave Kilcoyne is in explosive form, while Andrew Porter offers a similar level of powerful change-up as the back-up tighthead prop. Interestingly, Schmidt has opted for Niall Scannell – considered stronger at the set-piece – over Sean Cronin as the sub hooker.

Jack Conan can add punch in the back row, while Luke McGrath is in excellent form. With Joey Carbery not recovered from his ankle injury yet, Jack Carty takes the 22 shirt – having impressed Schmidt with his performances and training form. The Connacht man will hope for a decent stint in the second half.

Finally, Chris Farrell can bring physicality as a replacement, although one presumes he will come on in midfield, with Garry Ringrose shifting to the wing if Ireland bring off any of their starting back three.

All in all, Ireland’s bench offers Schmidt some fascinating options. 

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Yokohama

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