Tuesday 28 March 2017

Is this the XV Joe Schmidt will send out to face South Africa in eight days' time?

Robbie Henshaw and CJ Stander look like guaranteed starters
Robbie Henshaw and CJ Stander look like guaranteed starters

Tom Rooney

In eight days’ time Ireland will take the field at the Newlands Stadium for the first of three Tests against South Africa, and yesterday’s injury enforced alterations to the squad have forced Joe Schmidt to belatedly reassess his selection process.

Say what you will about the standard of performance Ireland have reached since the beginning of what proved another deflating World Cup last autumn, but there is not a side in the world whose standards would not have discernibly slipped in the face of such extensive casualty lists.

Very few fans will have mourned yesterday’s news of the Kearney brothers’ withdrawal for the travelling party with injury. The elder, Rob, has either been convalescing or markedly out of form over the past year, yet Schmidt has persisted in deploying him when permitted.

David, on the other hand, has been the source of derision largely because  it is tough to understand why he has perpetually been selected ahead of faster, more dynamic and prolific wingers.

Their absence, and that of the brutally unlucky Luke Fitzgerald, has facilitated the call-ups of Connacht duo Matt Healy and Tiernan O’Halloran and Ulster flier Craig Gilroy - a triumvirate of attacking talent, whose initial omission left fans and commentators alike decidedly aghast.

One of the frequently visited topics when discussing Joe Schmidt’s criteria for selection involves speculating about the team he should pick and the one he actually will. As such, we’ve decided to occupy the Kiwi’s mind for a moment and name his team for the first showdown in Cape Town.

Robbie Henshaw

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All the Leinster bound back’s international rugby has been played in midfield, and all but once at 12, but Schmidt has said he’s strongly considering Henshaw at full back.

The Athlone man has played there often and with great distinction for Connacht and, in the absence of Simon Zebo and Rob Kearney, seems a logical choice. The uncapped Tiernan O’Halloran might be a little green for such an assignment.

Andrew Trimble

The Ulsterman is the archetypical Schmidt winger; a ferocious defender, tenacious kick-chaser and all round workhorse. Trimble is not the most exciting choice but he’ll provide the back three with real ballast.


Jared Payne


The clamour call for the naturalised-New Zealander to be slotted in at full back has sounded long and loud. However, his defending on the fringes of midfield are imperious and Ireland are likely to be faced with the super-athletic paring of Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel, so Payne needs to stay put.

Stuart Olding

Won the last of his two caps in a try-scoring cameo against Georgia in 2014 and has been plagued with injury periodically since. Olding has been magnificent for Ulster this season and was deserving of his call up. A languid, intelligent footballer who offers a different threat to Henshaw.

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Keith Earls

Healy and Gilroy might be in the group but they're unlikely to unseat the remaining incumbents. Earls has the pace and step to wreak havoc but he'll know that the new recruits are eyeing his spot.


Paddy Jackson

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There’s no point in sugar coating it, the loss of Johnny Sexton is considerable, but heaven knows he could do with a break. Ian Madigan has been drafted in to replace his former club teammate though all logic dictates that Jackson will start.

The Ulster fly-half has truly come of age this season but was overlooked during the World Cup and Six Nations for the more versatile Madigan, who had seemingly been cast into the international wilderness in light of his imminent move to Bordeaux. One caveat, Madigan is the more reliable place-kicker.


Conor Murray

A no-brainer. Murray is one of the better scrum-halves around and his game management skills will be even more vital without Sexton.


Jack McGrath


A player at the peak of his powers, and arguably the world’s best loose-head. McGrath is mobile around the park, punishing at the breakdown and an increasingly strong scrummager.

Rory Best

It could be argued that Best’s play has suffered since succeeding Paul O’Connell as skipper, but he’s a key component in the Schmidt machine and, if fit, will start every game.


Mike Ross


The cornerstone of an Irish scrum that creaked time and again while he was injured at the start of the Six Nations. Ross is no longer capable of an 80 minute shift but Connacht’s Finlay Bealham will bring a new dynamic after the hour.

Devin Toner

Toner is to the line out what Ross is to the scrum and is pivotal to Ireland getting go-forward ball off first phase. Not the most athletic or explosive but a true warrior nonetheless.

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Iain Henderson

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Great to see the Ulster powerhouse back to full health. His physicality will be imperative if Ireland are to survive the Springbok onslaught in the trenches. Henderson is a prodigious athlete and the best ball-carrying forward in the squad.

CJ Stander

The prodigal son returns to the country who dismissed him as being too small for Test rugby. As evidenced by Stander's breakout Six Nations campaign, the South African prognosis was not accurate.


Rhys Ruddock


The Leinster back row is not a natural seven, but neither is Jordi Murphy. Schmidt will have to improvise without Sean O'Brien, Tommy O'Donell and Chris Henry.

Ruddock was jettisoned in at open side for the victory over South Africa in 2014, and gave an admirable account of himself while scoring a fine try. He’s another who will be expected to meet the African juggernaut head on.

Jamie Heaslip

The evergreen Kildare man continues to be one of Ireland’s most reliable operators. Furthermore, he never gets injured and, from his experience with the Lions in 2009, knows exactly what’s awaiting the tourists.


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