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A new fullback and big wing calls - Ireland's back three for the Six Nations

Will Addison and Jordan Larmour both impressed at 15 for their provinces.

IN THE FINAL piece of our series analysing the options Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has to choose from in his Six Nations squad, we take a closer look at the back three.

We’ve already discussed the front rowsecond rowback rowhalfbacks, and midfield, so here we dig into the competitive fullback and wing positions.

Farrell will name his starting XV and bench to face Scotland on Tuesday.

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Back threes

Will Addison [Ulster, 4 caps]
Andrew Conway [Munster, 18]
Keith Earls [Munster, 82]
Dave Kearney [Leinster, 19]
Jordan Larmour [Leinster, 21]
Jacob Stockdale [Ulster, 25]

World Cup squad members Keith Earls, Jacob Stockdale, Andrew Conway, and Jordan Larmour are back again, supplemented by Ulster’s Will Addison and Leinster’s Dave Kearney, who missed out on the final selection.

Rob Kearney, the first-choice fullback at the World Cup, has been omitted by Farrell, meaning Ireland will definitely have a new 15.

will-addison Addison has been in good form for Ulster. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Larmour and Addison are the two leading candidates for the role and both have been in impressive form for their provinces, although Addison has had a four-game suspension and an injury niggle this season, meaning he hasn’t played a huge amount of rugby compared to most others in the Ireland squad.

Larmour suffered a foot injury in Leinster’s win away to Benetton last weekend and while Ireland have said it isn’t a serious issue, it could be that a decision on fullback is far more straightforward for Farrell. 

Ulster man Addison has been classy when he has been on the pitch, making seven clean breaks and beating 29 defenders with ball in hand. Another element Addison brings in attack is his fluid passing, with the 27-year-old delivering two try assists and another four linebreak passes for Ulster.

Defensively, Addison has been working hard to bring more physicality but his tackle success is at 64.1% for the season, while Larmour’s is at 82.5%. That figure doesn’t tell us the full story about the pair’s defensive skills, of course, but Farrell and co. will push Addison to continue improving his one-on-one tackling.

Aerially, both players still have progress to make to get to the level Kearney offered at his peak. Larmour has successfully gathered 82.5% of the opposition kicks that have come his way this season, while Addison stands at 73.5%. 

In terms of his attacking play, the quality of Larmour’s footwork and acceleration is well known but shouldn’t be glossed over. The Leinster man has beaten a remarkable 49 defenders and made 17 linebreaks in this campaign, while his passing and kicking skills are improving too.

Larmour’s injury may ensure that Addison gets first shot in this Six Nations but Farrell will hope the 22-year-old is fit to feature.

keith-earls 32-year-old Keith Earls is highly experienced. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

If Addison does become Ireland’s first-choice 15, then Larmour could obviously feature on the wing, where he has played a share of his Test rugby so far.

Stockdale and Earls were the front-line wings at the World Cup last year and will be fighting hard to keep their spots, while Conway and Kearney are also in the mix on the back of good performances for their provinces. 

Stockdale’s form for Ulster has been strong following a disappointing World Cup. A potent finisher, Stockdale has been notably aggressive in defence in recent months and Farrell seems likely to ask the 23-year-old to use his large frame to a more consistent effect in games. 

Farrell worked very hard with Stockdale in his previous position as defence coach, and it would be a surprise if the new boss doesn’t continue with the Ulster man as the starting left wing. Stockdale’s long left-footed kicking game is another very useful tool.

Earls is another man who has had an injury very recently, missing Munster’s game against the Ospreys last weekend due to a knee issue. It is unclear if it’s the same injury that the 32-year-old was carrying at the World Cup.

If he is fit, Earls offers obvious experience in the back three, although his recent form hasn’t been as strong as some of his fellow back three players. 

Conway was one of the better Irish players at the World Cup and arguably should have started the quarter-final against New Zealand. The 28-year-old will likely feel that this is the championship where he finally becomes a starter for Ireland. Conway is also capable of playing fullback but is rarely used there by Munster or Ireland.

andrew-conway-scores-their-fourth-try-of-the-game Conway did well at the World Cup. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The durable Conway is a robust defender, strong aerially, and possesses lots of pace. His hard-working support play is another strength.

Leinster man Kearney has a very high work-rate too and will be desperate to feature for Ireland after missing out on the World Cup. The-year-old was a prominent player at the beginning of the Joe Schmidt era but has had injury frustrations in more recent years.

Now fully fit and comfortable playing on the right or left wing, and even at fullback, Kearney will hope to make up for lost time.  

Possible Ireland back three v Scotland: Jacob Stockdale, Keith Earls, Jordan Larmour.

Possible number 23 v Scotland: Will Addison.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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