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Dublin: 6°C Sunday 16 May 2021

Zebo at fullback and more talking points from Schmidt's Ireland XV

Jack Conan makes his debut, Madigan steers the ship and D’Arcy returns.

 JOE SCHMIDT HAS named his team to face Scotland on Saturday at the Aviva Stadium (KO 17.00). Check out the full matchday squad here.

Conan the destroyer

23-year-old Conan was one of only two uncapped players named in Ireland’s 45-man training squad for the World Cup preparations, Tahdg Furlong being the other. The feeling was that the Leinster back row might not find game time this summer, but Schmidt has handed Conan his chance.

Jack Conan and Jamie Heaslip Conan (left) with Jamie Heaslip at Carton House. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The injury to Tommy O’Donnell reduces Joe Schmidt’s still-excellent back row options for his final 31-man squad, but even then it would be sensational for Conan to travel to the World Cup.

His ball-carrying prowess, mobility and generally superb athleticism, coupled with the skillset now expected of Irish back rows, make him a thrilling prospect, but one wonders if Schmidt is playing the long game here.

A stunning performance from Conan on Saturday might alter any back row plans Schmidt had, but the Kiwi head coach may be giving game time to a player he sees as a crucial part of his standby list for the World Cup.

Madigan steers the ship

After Paddy Jackson got his audition at 10 last weekend in Wales, Ian Madigan steps into the out-half slot this week, eager to underline his quality to Schmidt. Clearly Johnny Sexton is the first-choice here, but the back-up role is less decided.

IrelandÕs Ian Madigan Madigan was used off the bench last weekend.

Madigan’s versatility continues to make him a brilliant bench option, although Jackson’s end-of-season form before the summer might have seen Schmidt mark the Ulsterman out as a better direct replacement should Sexton succumb to injury.

For Madigan, the important things on Saturday remain the same as they have been for some time – intelligent control of Ireland’s game plan, a sharp kicking game and authority in marshalling his team around the Aviva Stadium.

Zebo at 15

The back three plot thickens, as Munster man Simon Zebo is given an opportunity to demonstrate that he can provide back-up to Rob Kearney at 15. Lively off the bench against Wales, Zebo will be asked again to inject his playmaking credentials against Scotland.

Simon Zebo 'Zeebs' has played at 15 for Ireland before. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Schmidt is a fan of Felix Jones, who was excellent again in Cardiff, but the Ireland coaching staff may well be pondering the need to bring two specialist fullbacks. Jones has, admittedly, played on the wing for Ireland and therefore covers two positions.

Picking out Ireland’s group of back three players for the final 31-man World Cup squad has only got more difficult with the decision to run Zebo at 15. From his personal point of view, the prolific 25-year-old must nail his opportunity, marrying the attacking skills he possesses with his continuing growth in the air, in the tackle and at ruck time.

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D’Arcy stakes a claim

Having been left out of the Ireland squad for the last two rounds of this year’s Six Nations, it had seemed as though Gordon D’Arcy’s international career might be at an end.

Gordon D'Arcy D'Arcy is alongside Jared Payne in the centre. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The 35-year-old’s teammates had little doubt that D’Arcy would force his way back into the picture, however, and so it is that the Leinster man will rack up cap number 82 against the Scots.

Darren Cave impressed in the 12 shirt with his direct carrying last weekend, so the stall is very much set out for D’Arcy. His defensive excellence is an advantage of course, while Schmidt most probably values the experience D’Arcy would bring to a World Cup squad.

Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne are Ireland’s first-choice centres at present, but D’Arcy can show on Saturday that his contributions can still be notable.

‘Front-liners’ returning

Devin Toner was exceptional again for Ireland last season, and he begins his campaign with an outing alongside Dan Tuohy.

Sean O'Brien with Joe Schmidt Sean O'Brien is back at number eight. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Sean O’Brien gets what will hopefully be a long and injury-free season underway at number eight, Schmidt assessing his options should Jamie Heaslip somehow pick up an injury.

Tommy Bowe, amid all that back-three competition, has an opening to stamp his experience, aerial quality and physical power all over Schmidt’s latest World Cup plans.

Off the bench, captain Paul O’Connell gets set to begin his final few months as an Ireland international and would appreciate the game time as he looks for fitness ahead of the World Cup.

Mike Ross, the old reliable, continues in the number three shirt.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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