Joe's trust in JVDF, interesting bench calls and more selection talking points

Ireland return to the Aviva Stadium to face France on Sunday.

JOE SCHMIDT HAS this afternoon named his Ireland team for the penultimate round of Six Nations action, as France visit the Aviva Stadium this Sunday [KO 3pm, Virgin Media 1]. 

Schmidt’s selection is available here, while below we take a closer look at some of the main talking points from today’s team announcement.

Big guns recalled to boost Ireland

Joe Schmidt with James Ryan James Ryan is back in Schmidt's starting XV. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

As expected, Schmidt has restored a host of his first-choice starters for the round four rendezvous with France in Dublin, the Ireland head coach making seven changes in all from the victory over Italy last time out.

Six of those alterations come in the pack as the likes of captain Rory Best, Cian Healy and James Ryan all return to action after being rotated out in round three, while the return to fitness of Iain Henderson and CJ Stander is a major fillip.

Ireland’s lineout malfunctioned in Rome — Sean Cronin appears to have paid the price for that under-performance — and the renewal of Henderson and Ryan’s second row partnership for the first time since the win over Argentina last Autumn should provide a firmer set-piece platform against the French. 

Stander is back ahead of schedule after showing his remarkable powers of recovery again in shaking off a fractured cheekbone and eye socket to start at the back of the scrum, taking the place of Leinster’s Jack Conan. 

There’s a settled look to the backline but the presence of Ringrose in midfield alongside the ever-present Bundee Aki is a boost, given the Leinster man’s playmaking ability, magical dancing feet and excellent game-management, which will all add to Ireland’s attack. 

The 24-year-old, who will win his 19th international cap, also brings huge defensive nous to the Ireland backline, and in the continuing absence of Robbie Henshaw, Ringrose’s return after missing the wins over Scotland and Italy is most welcome.

After rotation in Rome, this is very much Schmidt’s strongest hand, his selection no doubt made with the acute need for a much-improved performance and a strong finish to this championship firmly at the front of his mind. 

In JVDF Joe trusts 

Josh van der Flier JVDF starts ahead of Sean O'Brien. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It’s hard to remember the last time a fully fit Sean O’Brien was completely omitted from an Ireland matchday 23, but the Leinster flanker — who will move to London Irish after the World Cup — has fallen out of Schmidt’s plans this week.

Not only has his Leinster team-mate Josh van der Flier been handed the seven jersey, but there is no place for O’Brien among the replacements, with Schmidt opting for Conan as the back row cover.  

O’Brien was not in Belfast last Friday for Ireland’s open session at Queen’s University and Schmidt revealed afterwards that he had returned to his province as part of an overall decision to manage his workload. Easy to say in hindsight, but the writing was on the wall then.

The 32-year-old came off the bench against England on the opening weekend and then made starting appearances against Scotland and Italy, but was not at his best in either game, his place going to van der Flier this time around. 

Regardless, it is a big call from Schmidt, particularly when leaving O’Brien out of the 23 completely given the Tullow man’s versatility and leadership off the bench, not to mention the power and ballast he can add to the contest later in the piece.

For van der Flier, it’s another huge show of trust in his capacity for the big games, having starred in the victory over the All Blacks, while starting against England on the opening weekend. The Leinster openside wins his 17th cap alongside Peter O’Mahony and Stander.

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Bench options 

Jack Carty Carty is the out-half cover. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There were a number of interesting calls on the bench, but Schmidt has largely rewarded those who have impressed in previous rounds, notably Dave Kilcoyne, Ultan Dillane and, to an extent, John Cooney.

Kilcoyne again holds off Jack McGrath to provide cover for Healy, John Ryan is seemingly ahead of Andrew Porter in the tighthead pecking order under Tadhg Furlong and with Cronin out of the picture, Niall Scannell is the reserve hooker. 

Although Tadhg Beirne was back in the mix after making a strong injury comeback for Munster, Dillane is retained in the matchday squad, a selection the Connacht second row is more than deserving of given his tireless shift at the Stadio Olimpico. Quinn Roux drops out. 

Conan, as mentioned, is selected ahead of O’Brien and Jordi Murphy while John Cooney holds off the challenge of the fit-again Kieran Marmion to be named as the replacement scrum-half, the Ulster nine set to win his eighth cap. 

With Joey Carbery ruled out again with a hamstring injury, Jack Carty could win his second cap off the bench, with Jordan Larmour shaking off a finger injury to return to the number 23 jersey ahead of Andrew Conway.

Andy Dunne joins Murray Kinsella and Ryan Bailey to discuss Joe Schmidt’s undroppables and how France might attack Ireland’s predictability in The42 Rugby Weekly.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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