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Ireland leave little to chance and more talking points ahead of Italy clash

Joe Schmidt has named a team to power through any potential hiccups.
Feb 8th 2018, 2:48 PM 8,122 3

JOE SCHMIDT THIS afternoon named a team with four changes to face Italy in the Six Nations. You can see the full matchday squad here with a few of our immediate thougts on the team-sheet below.

Statement of intent

The natural breaks in the Six Nations schedule have fallen quite nicely for Ireland, but the prospect of a home clash with the Azzurri still presents some room to manouvre.

Joe Schmidt Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Schmidt made little secret in November that he had the thee-Test window earmarked for the majority of experimentation and blooding he needed to do with the 2019 World Cup drawing closer. The Six Nations meanwhile, is a very important short-term barometer of how this team is progressing.

This may have been an opporunity to rest Sexton after his post-cramp heroics last weekend. Indeed, bar Jacob Stockdale, the entire back-line played 80 minutes last weekend. Peter O’Mahony and Iain Henderson were also on the field for the full-time whistle and will be again for kick-off this weekend.

Rather than risk any speedbumps, hiccups or a repeat of last weekend’s attacking issues, Schmidt has thrown the majority of his front-liners at the Azzurri to ensure that the momentum injected by Sexton in the 83rd minute last weekend, can be built on.

Jack up

If you had told Jack Conan this time last season that Jamie Heaslip would be approaching a year out of the game, he might have expected to have slipped snugly into the Ireland number 8 jersey as well as the Leinster one in his absence.

Jack Conan speaks with Simon Easterby Simon Easterby gives some pointers to Jack Conan. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Instead, CJ Stander’s excellence has him in a somewhat odd position. He is second choice at number eight, but he has rarely been deployed as a blindside and that perception of inflexibility kept him out of the top four back row spots come matchday.

Starting for the sixth time in six caps on Saturday, Conan will have another chance to further his claim after extremely impressive outings on the summer tour and then against Fiji in November.

Larmour to be let loose

While we had hoped to see Joey Carbery clock up some much-needed out-half minutes from the start, it always seemed a sensible call to let Jordan Larmour wait in the wings until some lines have been drawn in the sand.

Jordan Larmour Air Jordan Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The Leinster flyer is a superb broken-field runner and the prospect of him arriving into the fray when the Azzurri defenders are tiring and stretched is a tantalising one for Irish fans going to the Aviva Stadium.

With all the warranted hype around Larmour over the winter, it’s worth remembering that he was playing for Ireland U20s this time last year and only won his first Leinster cap on the opening day of the Pro14 season against the Dragons.

Eye on tries

Another reason to be excited about the line-breaking talent among the replacements is the need for tries from Ireland.

Obviously, four penalties and a drop-goal left us with little to complain about last week. But – albeit on a dismal night in Paris – there was little evidence of Ireland threatening the French line.

Jonathan Sexton in the team huddle Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With England racking up seven tries in Rome last weekend and Wales’ attack an utterly thrilling spectacle as they too claimed a bonus point win, five points and a healthy points differential is essential for Ireland in the greater scheme of this Championship.

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Sean Farrell


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