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Dublin: 1°C Sunday 7 March 2021

Here's The42's Ireland XV to start the 6 Nations

Taking injuries into account, here’s who we’d pick to face Scotland in February.

THERE’S QUITE A bit of rugby to be played, form to be picked up and injuries to be avoided between now and the first week of February. But presuming no new injuries hit Joe Schmidt’s squad, here’s who we would like him to pick to face Scotland.

15. Simon Zebo

Added a very obvious extra dimension to Ireland’s attack when called to replace Rob Kearney early against Australia. Proving himself to be a sound fullback on top of a brilliant playmaker whether stepping up as a first receiver or improvising out wide.

Simon Zebo Source: James Crombie/INPHO

14. Andrew Trimble

Back three injuries put him into Joe Schmidt’s plans after a long absence in 2014 and, when fit, he’s been undroppable since. Powerful, smart, experienced, cool: the Ulster man is a terrific weapon to have on the flank.

13. Garry Ringrose

The inside centre is an automatic selection, however Jared Payne’s internal organ injury means Robbie Henshaw needs a new partner. In November, Schmidt tried to ease Garry Ringrose in gently to Test rugby, but before long he was called upon to play out of position for 70 minutes against the best team in the world.

Despite defeat to New Zealand that night, Ringrose emphatically dispelled any notion that he didn’t yet have the physicality needed for the highest level. Who needs heft when you’ve innate match intelligence and an ability to find a gap in any tackler.

12. Robbie Henshaw

Ireland’s attack orbits around the Athlone man as much as it used to rely on Jonathan Sexton. Henshaw’s November was cut short by a violent concussion, but he had already established himself as a senior on-field leader for Ireland. His partnership with Ringrose is still as fresh as his move across the Shannon, but each passing minute in blue will give Schmidt more cause to keep the partnership going in green.

Ireland’s Robbie Henshaw is tackled by New Zealand All Blacks’s Sam Cane and Aaron Cruden Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

11. Keith Earls

Earls is the best wing Ireland have to offer. He was searing pace, the one thing missing from Andrew Trimble’s arsenal and while his height and weight should prevent him from being quite as powerful as his rivals for the jersey, his technique and timing eat up any noticeable gap.

Deserves immense credit for the win over Australia, assisting the first try before assuming back-line seniority once shifted to centre in the second half and scoring the winning try with a fine finish in the corner.

10. Jonathan Sexton

There’s always the two-word caveat with Sexton: ‘if fit’.

Schmidt teams just work so much better with Sexton at the helm pushing and haranguing team-mates around the field. Paddy Jackson continues to prove himself a more than worthy understudy though. Should there be any question marks over Sexton, the team would surely benefit from the assurance of having Jackson in place and able to play a full 80 minutes.

9. Conor Murray

Rory Best, Keith Earls, Simon Zebo and Conor Murray celebrate Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Kieran Marmion is an excellent and exciting scrum-half, but there’s no competition in this position. Conor Murray is the best scrum-half in the northern hemisphere and he will pick up the Lions number 9 jersey once again next summer.

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1. Jack McGrath

The pack has much less selection wiggle room than the back-line. Units have been tried and tested and, especially in the prop positions, younger talent has already risen to the top.

Cian Healy is a hell of an athlete to displace, but McGrath has made himself a clear first-choice for club and country with brilliantly consistent scrummaging and bottomless energy in open play.

2. Rory Best

Ireland’s Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Captain fantastic and age showing absolutely no sign of being an issue for a man who was always renowned for his aerobic fitness capacity.

3. Tadhg Furlong

Perhaps the country’s new favourite player for his down-to-earth interviews, but it’s on the field where he causes people to stand up and take notice. Has worked closely with Mike Ross for some years and that education shines through at the set-piece.

4. Iain Henderson

Struggled with a shoulder injury early in November, but adds a devastating carrying option along side the totemic Devin Toner. There is tough competition from both young and old for the number four shirt, but Henderson ticks all the boxes for both present and future.

5. Devin Toner

Essential 80-minute man in the pack. It will be a fair few years before Ireland look beyond the Meathman.

6. CJ Stander

The competition is fierce among the back row and there are men outside of this unit who we are loathe to exclude. Stander was Irish rugby’s player of the year in 2016 and his relentless workrate won’t be stalled by that sort of slap on the back.

Peter O'Mahony and CJ Stander congratulate Kieran Marmion Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The South African would probably rather keep someone other than his Munster team-mate and captain Peter O’Mahony out of the starting line-up, but excellent replacements are necessary in the modern game too.

7. Sean O’Brien

The Tullow Tank just has too much talent to keep out of the squad. Be it carrying, tackling, offloading or doing the primary duty of an openside at the breakdown, O’Brien is simply exemplary in his actions. The nation just needs him to remain fit for a solid run of games.

8. Jamie Heaslip

Showed some of his best ever form during a hard-hitting November. He will continue to be Ireland’s first-choice eight through the World Cup or until he finally picks up an injury.

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Peter O’Mahony, Kieran Marmion, Paddy Jackson, Tiernan O’Halloran.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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