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Carty's big chance, pack tweaks and more talking points in Ireland's team to face Italy

Joe Schmidt has pushed for continuity in attack with the selection of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton.

ROUND THREE OF the Six Nations is here and Joe Schmidt today unveiled his matchday squad to face Italy.

You can take a gander at the full 23 here, while we have some snap discussion points below.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt oversees training in Maynooth today. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Injuries bring a heat check

With four players missing out through injury after midweek training, the build-up to this game almost feel like a very low grade version of Argentina 2015.

Jack Conan, Joey Carbery, Robbie Henshaw and Jordan Larmour would all have fit the bill for a run-out in Rome, but all were kept out of harm’s way due to knocks.

There is no lack of experienced bodies where Henshaw plies his trade, but the absence of the other three is to the advantage of Jordi Murphy, Andrew Conway and Jack Carty. Each will have an eye on progressing their case for a World Cup berth, with the former duo aiming to give Schmidt further evidence of their versatility and ability to hit the ground running in situations like this. Situations which, as we have seen, can make or break World Cups.

Cronin’s overdue call

67 caps under his belt, 15 tries, a European Player of the Year nominee, 32 years of age and consistently a source of ignition for Leinster’s attack, it seems improbable and astounding, but this weekend will mark Sean Cronin’s first start in the Six Nations.

Sean Cronin Cronin takes aim at a line-out in training. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Rory Best’s excellent form and his position as captain is the clear explanation for that  oddity, but the Ulster legend’s age profile alone increases the likelihood that Cronin could well wind up as first-choice by the time Ireland touch down in Japan.

Carty’s big chance

Jack Carty’s stock has rocketed since Andy Friend’s arrival in Galway, but this season has been no bolt from the blue by Carty.

Jack Carty Carty in training at Carton House today. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Little improvements in defence and his goal-kicking ratio have made all the difference to his international hopes it seems, but Carty’s all-round attacking game has been consistently excellent over recent years.

The Roscommon man’s superb timing in the pass and his marvellous array of kicking from hand will hopefully be given a showcase and when he is called off the bench to make his Test debut. A tiring Azzurri side might just be stretched to breaking point by the Connacht star.

No half measures

In playing Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray in tandem, Schmidt isn’t so much making a statement of intent as an admission the long-running half-back partnership has struggled for form.

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Barring some fine displays in Europe, Murray has not been able to consistently hit his best form since his lay-off with a neck injury.

Conor Murray and Andy Farrell Andy Farrell with his half-backs this week. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Sexton has made a very good habit out of hitting the ground running after short stints on the sidelines over recent years, but the World Player of the Year had little to no room to operate in when England stormed the Aviva. He certainly made an impact during his 23 minutes against Scotland, slipping Jacob Stockdale through for a perfectly executed try, but an impact was also made on him by Allan Dell.

Ireland’s medical team and coaches dispelled all fears around Sexton’s failed HIA last week. So with Italy falling between two fallow weeks in the Six Nations, Schmidt was left with the choice of mining more minutes and pushing for form from his first-choice playmakers, or leaving Sexton to prepare to face France in the first week of March with just 103 minutes of rugby under his belt this year.

Settled back-line

While many call for experimentation against Italy, who have not won a Six Nations game since 2015, there are no trial runs and no changes in the back-line as Schmidt seeks an attacking rhythm from his side.

Jacob Stockdale Stockdale on the run at Carton House today. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

It will take something big to shake up the pecking order in the back three where Rob Kearney, Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale have proven so successful. Though there are many combinations available to Schmidt in the centre, choosing Bundee Aki and Chris Farrell for this task – with their successes against Wales and, more recently, Scotland in mind – is a push for continuity.

Tom Farrell will have to wait a little longer for his debut, while Henshaw will have to regain full fitness before returning to either centre or fullback.

Dillane in from the start

It’s in the pack where Schmidt has opted to make tweaks and approach something like experimentation. However, there appears to be more than just that factor behind the design of the front eight.

Ultan Dillane Dillane in training in Maynooth today. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It’s tough to imagine a more mobile and dynamic forward selection and Ultan Dillane will be at the heart of that along with Cronin, Dave Kilcoyne, Tadhg Furlong and Sean Cronin.

Dillane will make just his third start for Ireland as he wins his 14th cap. His provincial experience with Quinn Roux will have helped his case for this match  and he also benefits from the need to rest James Ryan – the clear first-choice lock left fit – but this is also a vote of confidence in the Kerryman as he starts ahead of Iain Henderson.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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