a heady stu

Debut for Bangor Bulldozer, JVDF and more talking points from Ireland's team

Ireland’s back-line suddenly looks a lot bigger than their opposite numbers in England.

IRELAND HEAD COACH Joe Schmidt today named his starting line-up to face England in Twickenham on Saturday as he chases an end to a three-game run without a win. Here’s the team and here are some of our initial thoughts on the selection.

A heady Stu

Here he comes!

‘The Bangor Bulldozer’, Stuart McCloskey or simply ‘Choo Choo’ – whatever your preferred title for Ulster’s barnstorming, game-breaking centre, it feels good having him in a green jersey.

Stuart McCloskey and Simon Zebo Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

At over 6′ 3″ and 109 kilos, McCloskey won’t be found wanting for physicality against England. In fact, given Eddie Jones’ preference for a back-line with two out-halves, the 23-year-old’s presence will be another headache for England’s back rowers to worry about.


Sean O’Brien’s shoes, are big ol’ boots to fill, but Josh van der Flier has been slipping in to the Tullow Tank role with aplomb all season long.

Devin Toner and Josh van der Flier Gary Carr / INPHO Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

Obviously, the 22-year-old is a very different beast to O’Brien. Yet whichever back row slot he has been picked in, he has always brought an accurate breakdown threat, muscular carries and, most notably, an absolutely relentless effort in defence.

Ireland’s hard-hitting midfield

Jared Payne will be missed as a central totem of Ireland’s back-line, but it’s difficult not to get excited about the prospect of Robbie Henshaw and McCloskey going after gainlines and weak shoulders.

It would be wrong to characterise the new pairing as purely boshers as – whether through Henshaw’s pop passes or McCloskey’s well-honed distribution in a fluid Ulster backline – both have shown more rounded skills. However, there is absolutely no escaping their primary attacking weapons.

Robbie Henshaw Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

Having been a valuable one-out carrier at 12 for Schmidt since taking up the centre role, Henshaw may well find himself with more freedom to probe outside channels. England’s back-line is undoubtedly a quality one, but with this midfield combination, plus Andrew Trimble, Ireland find themselves in the unusual position of having a much more robust back division that this weekend’s hosts.


Call it a World Cup hangover, call it natural progression, but in handing a first cap to McCloskey and Van der Flier, and a third to CJ Stander, Schmidt has finally picked the country’s form back and forwards in the same starting line-up. Some spots on the replacements bench though, still leave us scratching our head.

Ultan Dillane, Cian Healy, Nathan White, Simon Zebo – no arguments there, a mix of obvious, natural and exciting options. Yet the longer this tournament wears on with opponents placing a big target on Jonathan Sexton’s head (and shoulder and chest…) the more sense it makes to have Paddy Jackson waiting in the wings in case Ireland need a natural out-half for longer than five minutes with the game already settled.

James Cronin, Nathan White and Sean Cronin Colm O'Neill / INPHO Colm O'Neill / INPHO / INPHO

Sean Cronin is another man who can feel aggrieved at missing out on the 23, the Limerick hooker was named on the bench for the draw against Wales and has looked plenty purposeful with Leinster in the meantime, but Richardt Strauss continues to be Rory Best’s preferred back-up.

And then there’s the back row slot, where Rhys Ruddock gets the nod over the one element the back row is missing – an out-and-out openside. With Tommy O’Donnell and Chris Henry fit and ready, their presence might have given Ireland the option of changing the balance of the back row.

Coalface relief

James Cronin must have been frustrated enough with his part in Ireland’s Six Nations so far. The loosehead didn’t make it off the bench in the home draw against Wales, and was needed for just six minutes in Paris while France offered comparatively even distribution of minutes to their front rows.

Cian Healy and Mike Ross Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Cronin is not among the matchday squad this weekend, he is replaced by the returning Cian Healy and the Leinster loosehead will undoubtedly be unleashed with plenty of clock left to run at Twickenham.

Mike Ross is also back from rehab and will hope to give Ireland a much more solid platform at the scrum, albeit against a tough opponent in Joe Marler, before Nathan White returns to the front line to see out the contest against Mako Vunipola.

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Stuart McCloskey’s form for Ulster shows he’s good enough for Ireland

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