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Familiar faces seem likely to lead the charge for Farrell's Ireland in Cardiff

The Ireland boss will feel many of his key men are in good form coming into this Six Nations.

Ireland will look for a strong start in Cardiff.
Ireland will look for a strong start in Cardiff.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Updated Feb 1st 2021, 8:03 PM

IF HE IS really keen for Ireland to pick up where they left off, Andy Farrell could make just one change to his Ireland starting XV for Sunday’s Six Nations opener against Wales in Cardiff.

Jacob Stockdale is the only man missing from last December’s Autumn Nations Cup third-place play-off win over Scotland in Dublin, a knee injury meaning the Ulsterman won’t be involved until the round three clash with Italy at the earliest.

Everyone else is back and it does seem likely that Farrell will opt for a settled selection for this trip to the Principality Stadium, where an away win would tee Ireland up nicely for a home clash against France in Dublin the following Sunday.

The front row of Cian Healy, Rob Herring, and Andrew Porter are favourites in jerseys one, two, and three – particularly given that the returning Dave Kilcoyne and Tadhg Furlong are so short on game time. That experienced pair could add some ballast off the bench.

In the second row, Iain Henderson appears to have timed his recovery from a knee injury to perfection to put himself in contention to continue alongside the indispensable James Ryan in the second row.

However, Henderson hasn’t played since the Scotland game and Tadhg Beirne’s excellent form for Munster may have earned the Kildare man a starting shot. Central to all of this will be how new forwards coach Paul O’Connell views the needs of Ireland’s lineout and maul – perhaps the key areas that need improvement in 2021.

Henderson has been the first-choice lineout caller when fully fit, so it will be interesting to see how that side of things develops.

In the back row, CJ Stander, Peter O’Mahony, and Caelan Doris finished the autumn campaign strongly and are widely expected to be retained as a unit.

Rhys Ruddock is back in the Ireland squad and Farrell may be tempted to bring the Leinster warhorse straight back into the 23 for the Wales game, although Will Connors and Josh van der Flier offer huge energy off the bench.

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garry-ringrose Garry Ringrose is set for his return with Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Conor Murray – who is in fine form – and captain Johnny Sexton will be the starting halfbacks, presuming the out-half is clear of his hamstring issue as he expects to be. 

Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw started the Scotland game in December in the absence of Garry Ringrose, but the Leinster outside centre is surely a nailed-on selection for Ireland now that he’s fit again. Ringrose is always missed when absent.

Aki has only just returned from a knee issue and Henshaw is in superb form, so the Athlone man is favourite to line out in the number 12 shirt. 

As Farrell indicated last week, Hugo Keenan is the most in-form option at fullback. Having made a positive impression in his first international campaign last autumn, the 24-year-old would love the chance to nail down his preferred number 15 shirt.

Among those very short of minutes are wing options James Lowe – who hasn’t played since the autumn due to a groin issue – and Andrew Conway – last seen for Munster on 13 December – so the experienced Keith Earls will be hopeful of getting a chance to pick up where he left off in a two-try performance against Scotland. 

Jordan Larmour is back in the fray after missing the autumn with a shoulder injury and it’s worth recalling that he was Farrell’s first choice at fullback in 2020, but his recent return has come on the right wing for Leinster.

Munster man Shane Daly is the other back three option and one senses that he would be capable of a big step up after a brief debut against Georgia last November, but he is coming from further back than the other candidates. 

Possible Ireland XV v Wales: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Keith Earls; Johnny Sexton (captain), Conor Murray; Cian Healy, Rob Herring, Andrew Porter; Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan; CJ Stander, Peter O’Mahony, Caelan Doris.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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