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Ryan injury could force Ireland change as Farrell considers back three options

The Ireland head coach will have to make selection decisions quickly with a six-day turnaround.

Ryan was forced off for a HIA against Scotland.
Ryan was forced off for a HIA against Scotland.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

WITH IRELAND NOW into a six-day turnaround before facing England, Andy Farrell doesn’t have long to mull over any possible changes to his starting XV and bench.

Having won two games in a row in this Six Nations, the Ireland head coach seems unlikely to make many alterations ahead of the clash with Eddie Jones’ side.

He may be forced into one due to injury after James Ryan departed late on in yesterday’s victory over Scotland for a head injury assessment [HIA]. The second row took a blow when tackling Hamish Watson and was visibly shaken, reaching out to balance himself against referee Romain Poite as he got back to his feet after the collision.

Speaking post-match, Farrell did not confirm whether Ryan had failed his HIA but the lock is a major doubt for the England game. Having already missed the clash with France earlier in this championship due to concussion, Ireland will take every precaution.

Losing Ryan would be a major blow for Ireland for this game against England and may force a reshuffle in the Irish pack.

Ryan Baird has provided an impact off the bench in the last two games but the 21-year-old still just has 27 minutes of Test rugby under his belt in two replacement outings, so Farrell may consider it too great a leap for Baird to come into the starting XV.

Tadhg Beirne, who has impressed at blindside flanker in the last two games, was excellent in the second row against Wales and France earlier in the championship, meaning he could revert to lock alongside the in-form Iain Henderson. Ultan Dillane is the other second row option in Farrell’s wider squad but has so far only played 24 minutes off the bench. 

If Ryan is ruled out and Beirne shifts to the second row again, Farrell will have an interesting call to make in his back row. Will Connors was excellent again yesterday and looks certain to retain his place for the England game, while CJ Stander will also be in the team.

Stander could move to blindside flanker if Jack Conan is promoted off the bench, from where he has featured in the last two games. 

Rhys Ruddock provides Farrell with an option at blindside flanker having started there against France before dropping out of the matchday squad. Josh van der Flier started the opening two games of this Six Nations before dropping out of the matchday 23. 

peter-omahony-during-the-warm-up Peter O'Mahony's suspension is now over. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Van der Flier is an openside like Connors so bringing him in would mean one of them switching across to the number six shirt.

Most interestingly of all, Peter O’Mahony’s suspension for his red card against Wales has now been completed, so he is entitled to play again. The Munster man’s last game will have been a full seven weeks before the England game, meaning it would be a huge ask, but stranger things have happened.

Farrell is also likely to consider a change in his back three after James Lowe’s poor outing against the Scots.

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Jordan Larmour is an obvious contender to come into the starting back three having been part of each matchday squad in this Six Nations – starting against Italy – with himself and Keith Earls both having experience on the left and right wings.

Jacob Stockdale is also back in action again after a knee injury had ruled him out of the start of the Six Nations. The 24-year-old delivered a reminder of his attacking capabilities for Ulster against the Dragons on Saturday night from the number 15 shirt. Andrew Conway, something of a forgotten man with Ireland, would also dearly love a return to the green jersey.

That said, Farrell has been keen to have Lowe in his starting XV at every available opportunity, bringing him straight back into the side for this Six Nations despite the Leinster man not having played for over two months due to a groin injury.

Farrell seems likely to stick with Jamison Gibson-Park at scrum-half having opted against using Conor Murray off the bench yesterday.

Farrell outlined before the game that Murray being without a game for five weeks meant he was not ready to start against the Scots, so another week without an appearance may mean the Ireland boss retains Gibson-Park. 

Otherwise, it is difficult to see any change for Ireland unless further injuries force their hand.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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