Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt unveiled his team for the second Test of the November series today. You can see the full XV here, while below are some immediate take-aways from the 23.
Larmour rewarded for star turn
A fit Rob Kearney will remain the first-choice fullback option for Joe Schmidt through next year’s World Cup, but there is growing competition behind the decorated veteran.
Andrew Conway and Will Addison have also made themselves live options for the 15 shirt, but the liveliest of them all is Jordan Larmour.
The 21-year-old showed off his sensational best against Italy in Chicago last weekend and he has been rewarded by another call for his sublime balance, footwork and acceleration.
Were it not for a knock to Garry Ringrose — “at a pinch, he could play Saturday,” says the head coach — Schmidt may well have chosen to shift Robbie Henshaw out of the centre and into the back-field. However, this turn of events promises to add an extra few layers of game-breaking possibility in Saturday’s Test.
Facing Argentina at this time of the season brings the prospect of space to work with. So Larmour’s skill-set will surely bring him ample opportunity to once again bring crowds to their feet.
When once Ireland’s back row was the most competitive unit – and it’s still not far off – the engine room of the second row constantly looks ready to burst such is the squeeze for three precious jerseys.
With Devin Toner again occupying the replacements, Iain Henderson and James Ryan are in the driving seat for the second row slots, with Henderson in the senior role as line-out caller and James Ryan tasked with bringing that incessant physicality across the field.
A week out from a clash with the world number one, Schmidt will surely have some tweaks in mind for his team week-on-week. But if we accept today’s line-up as the strongest available then you must feel for Tadhg Beirne as he is the unlucky lock missing from the matchday squad.
It must have made for an interesting debate between coaches. The former Scarlet has been one of the best players in Europe over the past two seasons, and he only slightly broke stride since returning to Ireland and syncing up in Munster’s pack. His abrasive carrying, defensive line-out ability and breakdown threats will be used to good effect by Ireland in the future, but he must bide his time this weekend.
Conor Murray’s absence has made a live fight of the starting scrum-half role and, in this instance, Schmidt has followed the line of succession to install Kieran Marmion as Johnny Sexton’s half-back partner for the first serious Test of the season.
Marmion has gained a hell of a lot of trust from his head coach since the Cardiff 2016 debacle when Murray’s withdrawal was delayed despite the Limerick ban clearly being unable to pass off his injured shoulder. The Connacht stalwart is able to rein in his free-running instincts when on international duty, offering a more solid, controlled tempo to games.
Luke McGrath’s attacking threat will make him a terrific impact option from the bench when change of tempo and tack can be best put to use.
Nobody will have felt the wait bite more than Sean O’Brien. 50 weeks on from his 51st international, he will win cap number 52 against the same opposition. Perhaps more importantly, he will have a clear run-up to earn a place against New Zealand.
A fit O’Brien has continually proven to be a ferocious addition to Ireland squads down the years and his overall influence on games is probably only surpassed by Jonathan Sexton and his name is one of the few that Kiwi players have always been forced to sit up and pay respect to.
However, untimely injuries have meant that Ireland have succeeded in his absence. His hip and shoulder kept him from playing a part in Ireland’s Grand Slam and Australia tour, and he was unlucky to miss out on playing spot in Chicago in 2016.
As with every area of this current squad, competition for the openside jersey has been fierce, with last year’s breakdown-bossing seven Dan Leavy sent to south Africa with Leinster last week before earning a spot among the replacements, while Josh van der Flier’s incredibly impressive season to date has not yielded him a place in the matchday squad.
Should Leavy come on to play openside, the make-up of Ireland’s starting back row allows for flexibility. Both O’Mahony and O’Brien are well-equipped to play anywhere across the back row while CJ Stander earned his international stripes on the blindside before filling the void left by Jamie Heaslip.
Oddly enough, after all the chopping and changing, the pack for this weekend is the same eight-man group who started against Argentina last year.
There is no need to go searching for good omens like that with this Irish team, however.
Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud