Schmidt rings changes as Kilcoyne gets chance to stake claim
FOURTEEN more players will be handed the opportunity to impress Joe Schmidt and bid for a place in the Ireland World Cup squad against Scotland this Saturday.
The New Zealander will hand Leinster back-row Jack Conan his international debut on the blindside flank, while naturalised Kiwi Nathan White could also make his first appearance if introduced off the bench.
The Connacht tighthead prop provides back-up for Mike Ross who continues his run as the only ever-present of the Schmidt era, with Sean Cronin returning from shoulder surgery at hooker and Dave Kilcoyne completing the front-row.
With doubts continuing over Cian Healy’s recovery from the neck operation he had at the end of last season and the Leinster loosehead’s chances believed to be rated at 70/30 against making the plane, it is a major opportunity for the Munster players to make an impression on Schmidt with Jack McGrath given the weekend off.
The official line on Healy’s recovery from surgery on a prolapsed disc in his neck is that he is being monitored on a week-to-week basis and he took some part in training at Carton House this morning, but his recovery is slower than hoped for and he is in a race to be fit in time to make the squad with Schmidt not requiring that he plays in the warm-ups if there’s a chance he could play against Canada on September 19.
Devin Toner makes his first appearance of the season alongside Dan Tuohy in the second-row, while Sean O’Brien captains the side from No8 with Chris Henry joining Conan on the flanks.
With injuries to Rhys Ruddock and Tommy O’Donnell out of the back-row reckoning, this offers St Gerard’s graduate Conan an opportunity to stake his claim at the first attempt.
Behind the scrum, Leinster pair Isaac Boss and Ian Madigan are paired together at half-back with the fly-half hoping to surpass Paddy Jackson's performance from the tee and cement his place as back-up to Johnny Sexton who will return against Wales in two weeks time.
Gordon D’Arcy gets what might be his one chance to make the squad in the centre alongside Jared Payne – the first time the duo will have played together.
Simon Zebo gets a chance to audition at full-back after impressing off the bench in Cardiff at the weekend, while Tommy Bowe and Luke Fitzgerald lend experience on the wings.
Michael Bent covers loosehead after playing on the other side of the scrum last weekend, while Richardt Strauss provides cover at hooker. Skipper Paul O’Connell will make his seasonal bow off the bench, while Jordi Murphy is the back-row replacement as Eoin Reddan, Jackson and Dave Kearney make up the bench.
Scotland have names a strong side for the Aviva Stadium clash, with Henry Pyrgos named as captain.
However, after rotating so many, Schmidt will be hoping this fresh side can build on the fine performance at the Millennium Stadium last weekend and increase competition for the final squad against a Scottish team who failed to win a game in the Six Nations.
Other head coaches have already began the process of cutting players from the squad but Schmidt has resisted the urge to rule anyone out.
"We haven't really whittled down the squad. We're trying to get game in to everyone," he added.
"Instead of whittling down, we'll be counting upways to 31 and that will make for some very hard decisions.
"If we can get to 31 and with some decisions extend that to 36 and you'll have a better idea when we pick the squad to play Wales the following week because post that we've pretty much gotta make further decisions."
Ireland: Simon Zebo; Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Ian Madigan, Isaac Boss; Dave Kicoyne, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross; Dan Tuohy, Devin Toner; Jack Conan, Chris Henry, Sean O’Brien (capt). Replacements: Richardt Strauss, Michael Bent, Nathan White, Paul O’Connell, Jordi Murphy, Eoin Reddan, Paddy Jackson, Dave Kearney.
Scotland: Ruaridh Jackson; Sean Lamont, Richie Vernon, Peter Horne, Tim Visser; Greig Tonks, Henry Pygros (capt); Ryan Grant, Fraser Brown, Jon Welsh; Jim Hamilton, Grant Gilchrist; Blair Cowan, Hugh Blake, David Denton. Replacements: Ross Ford, Gordon Reid, Mike Cusack, Rob Harley, John Barclay, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Duncan Weir, Matt Scott.