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Dublin: 10°C Saturday 15 May 2021

Ireland's front row options improve as Kilcoyne and Ryan drive on

The Munster pair have pushed into the matchday squad again in recent weeks.

AS A TEST Lion with 52 caps for Ireland, Jack McGrath would likely have expected to have more than a single bench appearance for Joe Schmidt’s side in this Six Nations.

But the excellent form Dave Kilcoyne has limited McGrath’s involvement so far, with the Munster loosehead making impacts off the bench against England, Scotland and France, as well as starting against Italy.

Ireland’s Dave Kilcoyne Kilcoyne has made an impact in the Six Nations. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Over on the tighthead side, Kilcoyne’s Munster team-mate, John Ryan, has enjoyed two replacement appearances and get another this weekend against Wales in Cardiff.

Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong remain the first-choice propping pair, but it has been interesting to see Kilcoyne and Ryan preferred to McGrath and Andrew Porter in recent weeks.

At hooker, Sean Cronin had a start against Italy before being dropped from the training squad in favour of Rob Herring, while Munster’s Niall Scannell has had two replacement opportunities.

While Ireland ended up with a frustrating loss of possession at the end of a series of strong scrummaging efforts in the second half against France last weekend, the four consecutive penalties before that were a credit to Kilcoyne, Scannell and Ryan after coming off the bench.

“I think the combination of the three of them working together,” said Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek of the effort. “It’s not just the three of them and a lot of these technical aspects can have a huge effect on other parts as well.

“Dave has had a great year so far with Munster and for him getting a run of games at this level is probably a good thing.

“Going back to the hooker and how complex that role is, depth is massively important, not only for the short-term this Saturday but even towards the World Cup and beyond.”

As for the ball popping out of that scrum close to the French tryline, when a score for Ireland would have completely killed off the game, Feek said Ireland were left annoyed.

Ireland’s John Ryan John Ryan is set for involvement again this weekend. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

“It was frustrating because I think they’d normally reset that when it pops out through the tunnel,” said the Kiwi. “But I know even talking to our halfback, John Cooney, he was worried that because there’d been a series where we’d had a few penalties for us that maybe things would change and we just didn’t quite get the put-in right with that either and then the ball popped out.

“So it’s a good reminder of that part of the game and in the past, we’ve learned that it is around being process-driven, massively.”

“For all of us involved and even the referee, it would be interesting to see what he thinks of that as well in terms of what they saw. I think the boys were obviously keen and pumped up about it as well, but if you don’t get the strike right and have another go, it changes things a little bit.”

There was also a scrum penalty against Ireland in the closing minutes, allowing the French to kick down the touchline for their second try from the maul.

“It was a similar thing as well around the strike process,” said Feek. “So if that happens you’re asking for trouble, particularly against a team like the French.”

Healy, captain Rory Best and Furlong are likely to be in Ireland’s starting front row once again this weekend in Cardiff, where Feek is anticipating another intense scrum battle.

“It will be pretty similar,” he said. “I mean, Wales have been going pretty good. They got a tighthead on the England ball a few weeks ago, they put a lot of pressure on Scotland and there’s a lot of continuity in their selections, a lot of combinations, they’ve kind of got a good feel for each other.

“So I think it will be a good contest.”

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Murray Kinsella

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