Fergie time again, Porter pounces and more talking points as Ireland name side to face Wales

The absence of two Lions from the tight five will be felt.

IRELAND HEAD COACH Joe Schmidt has named his starting line-up for Saturday’s pivotal Six Nations clash with Wales. You can see the full team news here,  while below are some of our immediate thoughts on the matchday 23.

Porter promotion

Athough there has been nothing but positive prognosticating from the Ireland camp about Tadhg Furlong’s hamstring since he limped off in the early minutes against Italy, two weeks was always an extremely short recovery window for the tighthead to squeeze through.

Andrew Porter wouldn’t have expected to play anywhere close to the 76 minutes he motored through a fortnight ago, but he excelled both at set-piece and in the loose on that outing.

Cian Healy and Andrew Porter Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

With only four caps behind him, Porter’s selection ahead of John Ryan is another indication that the pecking order is never in fixed position for Joe Schmidt.

The 22-year-old will come under intense scrutiny from a Welsh pack that has been in impressive form. But his passing skill-set, mobility and power in contact will offset the loss of Furlong around the park.

Henderson absence

On the subject of mobility, Iain Henderson’s dynamism will be missed against Warren Gatland’s men, though James Ryan is making strides to prove he can fill those boots.

Iain Henderson Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Without the Lions tourist, Ryan will partner Leinster team-mate Devin Toner in the second row, a combination of youth and experience that will give Schmidt and forwards coach Simon Easterby few set-piece concerns even if two tweaks to the tight five is far from ideal.

Quinn Roux comes in among the replacements and will hope to join Porter in the five-cap club. The Connacht lock, who has often been outside the westerner’s preferred engine room combination, put in a decent 40 minutes after replacing Henderson against Italy. His previous caps all came on summer tours under Schmidt, starting against South Africa, USA and Japan.

Farrell steps in for Henshaw

Schmidt’s November selections made the midfield dimensions he was keen on working with perfectly clear. The Kiwi joked that Robbie Henshaw was almost becoming a ‘small centre’ in comparison to Chris Farrell, Stuart McCloskey and even 5′ 11″ Bundee Aki.

Though McCloskey has fallen out of favour again and Rory Scannell has been waiting patiently in the wings since January, Farrell was always the obvious and straightforward choice to partner Aki against Wales.

Conor Murray, Chris Farrell, Peter O'Mahony and Johnny Sexton Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The Munster centre will have delighted Schmidt in the way he was able to step in and perform brilliantly at short notice when Henshaw suffered injury in the days before the November win over Argentina.

On top of his defensive awareness in the tricky 13 channel, in attack he provides an extra array of passing and offloading ability that will have Johnny Sexton and strike-runners Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale on the hunt for line-breaks.

Conan sees of Murphy for fourth back row berth

Jack Conan isn’t shy about disclosing some of the work-ons coaches set him to ensure he rises to the peak of his powers. Schmidt was clearly impressed by the basics the Dubliner put to use against Italy, but it was the innate natural game-breaking ability which thrust him into contention for Saturday’s pivotal fixture.

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Jack Conan poses for photos with fans Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

His stand-out moment against the Azzurri finished off a beautifully fluid attacking phase from Ireland. The number eight cut in off the touchline and simultaneously took contact while slipping a delicious reverse offload to give Conor Murray a canter to the try-line.

Jordi Murphy would have given Schmidt that valuable versatility as a replacement capable of playing six, seven and eight. Conan only plays the one position, but his continuing excellence in the eight jersey — along with the flexibility of Dan Leavy, Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander — is edging him ever closer to the very front of Schmidt’s thinking.

Fergie time

We had expected Fergus McFadden to be rewarded for some clinical contributions late on in Paris with a cap against Italy. Instead, he was released to play for Leinster in Edinburgh and the last spot on the bench that week went to Jordan Larmour.

Jordan Larmour celebrates scoring the first try with Fergus McFadden Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The young sensation experienced a debut which Schmidt described as containing quite a few ‘learning opportunities.’ McFadden is a perfect example of someone who has availed of every such opportunity under Schmidt’s scrutiny.

And so, even though Andrew Conway is back fit and in Munster’s starting line-up, the Leinster wing is completely trusted by the coach when games are in the balance.

Against Wales, the result is rarely cut and dried until the 80-minute mark ticks by.

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Sean Farrell

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