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Healy held back and more talking points from Ireland's side to face Wales

Jamie Heaslip is back, Johnny Sexton is fit and there will be a whole lot of fullbacks on the pitch.

IRELAND NAMED THEIR team to face Wales at Carton House this afternoon, Joe Schmidt reading out the below names.

IRELAND: Rob Kearney; Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Simon Zebo; Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Jack McGrath, Rory Best, Mike Ross; Devin Toner, Paul O’Connell; Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip.

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Marty Moore, Iain Henderson, Jordi Murphy, Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan, Felix Jones.

Heaslip back at eight

Jamie Heaslip Heaslip arrives at Ireland training earlier today. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

With his 70 Ireland caps, three Heineken Cup victories, two Six Nations wins [one of them a Grand Slam] and two Lions tours on the CV, Jamie Heaslip brings a mountain of experience and proven quality into the Ireland XV.

He recovery from three fractured vertebrae in such a short space of time is hardly surprising at this stage, given the effort he puts into ensuring his body is consistently functioning at peak levels.

Jordi Murphy is unfortunate to miss out after impressing with a huge work rate against England, while Tommy O’Donnell is most unlucky as all as he drops out of the match day squad. That said, Heaslip has been here and done it before; his return is a boost.

Healy again held back

Luke Fitzgerald and Cian Healy Healy alongside Luke Fitzgerald at Carton House. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Having put another 73 minutes on his playing clock last weekend in Leinster colours against the Scarlets, Cian Healy must have felt he was edging closer to a starting position in Schmidt’s plans.

However, the Kiwi head coach has once again opted to keep the dynamic loosehead prop in reserve, and it’s as hard to argue with Schmidt’s decision as ever. Jack McGrath has had a strong championship so far, and in Schmidt’s squad that justifies him keeping his place.

At scrum time, McGrath has been extremely solid, while his efforts in the rucks, tackling and lineouts have been impressive too.

Healy’s power also makes him ideal for striding off the bench in the second half, even if it’s been disappointing that Ireland have mainly been defending when he’s been on the pitch against France and England.

Fullback territory

Robbie Henshaw Henshaw is one of a number of former fullbacks in Ireland's backline. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Again, Ireland’s backline is full of players with experience of lining out at fullback, even the centre pairing of Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne having worn 15 on numerous occasions.


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That positional history lends itself well to Ireland’s excellence in the aerial exchanges, of course, which will once again be key on Saturday afternoon.

It’s also worth nothing that Wales have players of great ability in the air too, including Liam Williams. The Scarlets man is a fullback playing on the wing, while even Jamie Roberts has played at 15 for Wales.

Dan Biggar, George North and Leigh Halfpenny are also excellent under the high ball, so we may be in for the most spectacular of aerial battles at the Millenium Stadium.

Relief around Sexton

Jonathan Sexton Sexton cuts through the rain on his way to training. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

It was well flagged early in the week that Johnny Sexton was likely to be fit to start against the Welsh after his hamstring strain in the England win, but it remains a relief for Ireland that he is fully fit.

Sexton is now the key to Ireland’s chances of ongoing success. We’ve seen how other players are ultimately dispensable, but the out-half is currently operating at a different level to the players backing him up.

His kicking excellence has been much focused on, but it’s worth remembering that Sexton is also an out-half of top quality running and passing pedigree too. There hasn’t been much space for those skills so far in this championship, although one senses that Sexton may ignite some of Schmidt’s best starter plays against the Welsh.

Whatever the game plan involves, Sexton will be the central figure again.

Originally published 14.00

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Murray Kinsella

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