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Here's The42’s Ireland XV for the 2016 Six Nations

Who would you like to see picked by Joe Schmidt?

THE FESTIVE PERIOD brings with it the usual inter-provincial interest in the Guinness Pro12, but Joe Schmidt will be watching proceedings with the Six Nations firmly in mind.

Ireland open their account with the visit of Wales to Dublin on 7 February, and preparations for that encounter begin with a short camp at Carton House early next month.

It’s likely that form and injury will affect the outlook over the coming weeks, but we asked our rugby writers, Sean Farrell and Murray Kinsella, to outline the XV they would select for Ireland in the 2016 Six Nations.

This is the side they would love to see picked by Schmidt, rather than the exact XV they expect to be named in early February.

15. Simon Zebo

Simon Zebo Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

In truth, we have only seen glimpses of what the Cork man can do in the 15 shirt for Ireland but his playmaking ability has to be squeezed in somewhere. His threat with ball in hand is an obvious plus, but Zebo’s passing game also allows Ireland to operate differently in attack.

There may be less positional reassurance than with Rob Kearney, the incumbent, but if Ireland’s attacking game is to develop then adding Zebo’s vision is crucial. His counter-attacking ability is another positive.

14. Andrew Trimble

The most unlucky man to miss out on Ireland’s World Cup campaign and a player whose defensive quality would have been useful in the quarter-final against Argentina. Trimble has been in fine form for Ulster ever since and looks hungrier than ever.

With 58 caps, the 31-year-old has major experience in the international game and doesn’t appear to be in physical decline just yet. A positive influence around the team environment, and a man with a point to prove.

13. Robbie Henshaw

IrelandÕs Robbie Henshaw Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

With Jared Payne only due back in January and the sensational form of Stuart McCloskey, we’ve opted to shift Henshaw into the 13 shirt for the start of the Six Nations. His defensive intelligence grows by the day and he looks well equipped to handle this notoriously difficult channel.

In attack, we’ve seen how Henshaw can physically dominate, but he also possesses the kind of sublime footwork that allows him to be a danger on the outside break. With his distribution and communication always improving, the 22-year-old is ready for the famous 13 shirt.

12. Stuart McCloskey

There is always a temptation on these shores to hold young players back, to drip feed them a taste of the international scene before unleashing. With only one Ireland camp under his belt before last season’s Barbarians game, McCloskey is behind others but his form demands an opportunity.

Now 23, the Bangor Bulldozer has been thriving against more experienced opponents for the entire season. He still has huge amounts to learn, but the strong running, well-timed offloading and underrated skillset he brings to the party are too hard to ignore.

11. Luke Fitzgerald

Luke Fitzgerald scores their first try Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Having been slightly on the periphery before appearing off the bench against Argentina in the World Cup, Fitzgerald proved to be Ireland’s best player in that quarter-final defeat.

His footwork means he can conjure a linebreak from very little, while his defensive reading and hitting are also very strong. Like Trimble, he has great experience on the international stage and understands Schmidt’s systems.

10. Johnny Sexton

The Leinster out-half has been a shadow of his former self for some months now, but if there’s one man to help Sexton back to his best it’s Schmidt. Their relationship is almost like that of a father and son, and Sexton adores playing for the Kiwi.

The issue with Sexton post-World Cup has been a lack of accuracy in his kicking and passing, although many of his ideas are strong. If he can begin to improve his form in the coming weeks, Schmidt can push him even further along that road in February.

9. Conor Murray

Conor Murray Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The most important player for Munster and one who can perhaps ease the responsibility on Sexton’s shoulders tactically, allowing his halfback partner to focus in on his own kicking and passing.

Ireland will continue to run much of their play through Sexton, but Murray is more than ready to be tasked with threatening more around the fringes and bringing his forwards into the game in more ways than simple one-out passes.

1. Jack McGrath

The 26-year-old has surpassed Cian Healy as the leading loosehead in Ireland and continues to improve month on month. With a couple of years remaining until he hits the age where most in his position peak, McGrath could be one of the best in the world.

His ruck work is exceptional, his scrummaging usually rock solid and legal, and his defensive contributions are both numerous and of a high quality. Even in the carrying stakes McGrath has grown to a point where he rivals Healy.

2. Rory Best

Mathieu Bastareaud and Yoann Maestri tackle Rory Best Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The Ulsterman is the captain of our selection, a leader who is respected by his teammates and never appears to be overly burdened by the additional responsibility and pressure that comes with the task.

On top of that, he’s easily the best hooker in the country.

3. Mike Ross

A conservative selection perhaps, but the man we feel is best suited to dealing with the Welsh on the opening weekend of the championship.

Marty Moore and Tadhg Furlong are the coming men of the tighthead position in Ireland, but Ross’ scrum, maul and lineout work remains at a strong standard. His experience in a side shorn of Paul O’Connell would be useful too.

4. Devin Toner

IrelandÕs Devin Toner Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The Leinster lock responded well to the challenge of Iain Henderson before and during the World Cup, and was one of the few Ireland players to show good form after returning to Leinster too.

His lineout mastery is one important reason to start Toner in the second row, while his rucking efforts are always impressive.

5. Donnacha Ryan

It was expected that Henderson would be the man to pick up the torch left flickering by Paul O’Connell and re-interpret it in his own inimitable fashion. Injury has deprived him of the chance to do so, leaving an opening for Ryan.

The expectation was that the Tipp man would return from his under-use at the World Cup in roaring fashion, but he has taken time to find his stride for Munster. Now 32, Ryan needs to nail down the Ireland shirt that he last owned in 2013.

6. Sean O’Brien

Sean O'Brien celebrates winning Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

O’Brien’s most recent appearance in a green jersey saw him deliver one of his finest performances in the international game. He was exceptional against France in the World Cup pool stages after his rash punch on Pascal Papé.

An inner-ear issue has been worrying in the months since, but if we are to trust the medical updates out of Leinster then O’Brien should be flying come Six Nations time.

7. Chris Henry

With Peter O’Mahony missing through injury, we’ve moved O’Brien into the number six shirt, from where we hope to see him make an even greater impact in the carrying stakes, we well as being the usual defensive nuisance at the breakdown.

That also allows Ulster’s Chris Henry to slot in at openside, from where he can provide excellent rucking and clever support play.

8. Jamie Heaslip

Jamie Heaslip Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Despite the ongoing dislike of the Leinster man in some quarters, he remains an effective player and one who has rarely let Ireland down. Our preference is to allow Heaslip to focus in on his individual roles within the added pressure of the captaincy.

CJ Stander is man now putting genuine pressure on Heaslip for his position, and the feeling is that the Munster back row’s presence in Ireland camp could drive Heaslip to greater performances.

Replacements:

16. Sean Cronin

17. Cian Healy (Denis Buckley’s ankle surgery was poorly timed)

18. Marty Moore

19. Ross Molony

20. CJ Stander

21. Kieran Marmion

22. Paddy Jackson

23. Rob Kearney

Let us know the 23 you’d like to see (not who you think will be) selected for the 2016 Six Nations in the comments section below.

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