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Monday 30 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
# Reaction
Return of the magnificent 7 and more talking points from Schmidt's team-sheet
There were some big and surprising calls in Ireland’s first XV of 2015.

Heaslip absence

JAMIE HEASLIP HAS been a stalwart in the number eight jersey for Ireland and his knack of avoiding injury trouble is almost legendary.

Tommy Bowe, Dominic Ryan and Jordi Murphy arrive for training Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

However, the shoulder knock sustained in the win over Ulster last month has appeared to require constant management.

Ireland’s vice captain managed to play through Leinster’s make-or-break Champions Cup pool matches, but since joining up with Ireland the images from the training camp have shown him taking part in modified training as Joe Schmidt and his staff took the conservative approach.

Heaslip, Schmidt says, trained in full today and will be ready to return for France’s visit to Dublin next weekend.

Starter for 10

With only three caps to his name before Saturday, and no starts in more than five years, Ian Keatley should count as an unexpected face to lead Ireland’s defence of the Six Nations Championship.

Ian Keatley, James Cronoin, Robbie Henshaw, Tommy O'Donnell and Jared Payne Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

However, it would appear that Ian Madigan’s lack of game time has cost him a starting berth in this fixture with Keatley being ear-marked for the role from early on in pre-tournament camp.

Once Conor Murray’s fitness began to become more assured, it was a natural fit to start his provincial team-mate alongside him. Before the Wolfhounds fixture kicking and skills coach Richie Murphy said ‘we know where he is’ in relation to the Munster out-half and Madigan’s subsequent difficult night in Cork sealed his omission.

Seanie’s back!

After almost 15 long months and two surgeries on his left shoulder, Ireland’s most effective player is back in a green jersey.

Sean O'Brien Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Sean O’Brien has not played at international level since the gut-wrenching defeat to New Zealand in November 2013. Ireland haven’t exactly struggled without him, but the Tullow Tank adds a unique dimension both with ball in hand and on the ground. Those set of skills will be needed all the more in the absence of Chris Henry in the long-term and Jamie Heaslip in the short.

Joe’s midfield men

Last week’s Wolfhounds’ selection revealed a lot, but now it is clear that Schmidt will stick by his guns by naming Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw as his favoured midfield pairing.

Tommy O'Donnell and Jared Payne Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The duo were allowed limited time to gel before Payne suffered a foot injury in the win over South Africa. With talk of a more expansive gameplan from Schmidt he is entrusting the handling skills of Henshaw and Payne to put that plan into action. The early weeks of the Championship won’t be easy, but the more that this pairing play together, the better they will be come the autumn World Cup.

Impact off the bench

From the Cronins, to Marty Moore, Tommy O’Donnell and Iain Henderson, Schmidt has a host of hungry young forwards with the physical attributes required to change the game or blow it wide open rather than simply allowing other players to rest.

And that’s just the forwards. Felix Jones has been in excellent form. Isaac Boss is a favourite away-day nine of Schmidt’s and he will be called upon to tighten up the game if needs be. On the other side of the coin, everybody knows about Madigan’s ‘x-factor’ whether he’s running from 10 or 12.

Not seen the team? Here you go>>>  Keatley and O’Brien in starting line-up as Ireland begin Six Nations defence

‘I nearly crashed the car’: Briggs admits shock at Ireland captaincy call but ready to take on Europe

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