Could these five players feature for Ireland against England?
Published 24/02/2016 | 19:29
When Joe Schmidt names his Ireland side to face England tomorrow, the most pressing concern will be whether or not Jared Payne has been deemed fit to start, but the intrigue won’t stop there.
It’s clear now, and completely understandable, that the Kiwi coach is not going to radically change his selection policy for a daunting trip to Twickenham, even if results in the previous two rounds mean a third successive Championship is near impossible.
However, without throwing the baby out with the bath water, it is possible for Schmidt to make some significant changes without fundamentally altering the blueprint.
England are two from two in the tournament thus far, but remain a formative entity under Eddie Jones. With respect to Scotland and Italy, Ireland, as injury laden as they are, represent the most exacting examination of the Australian’s brief tenure.
As such, with the hosts still forging their path as a side, they are a vulnerable target, who may be beguiled if Ireland throw some personnel curve balls at them. Still chasing a first win of the campaign, the champions are in need of a major boost.
The Ulster wing was only called into camp this week as a replacement for Dave Kearney, and has featured just once under Schmidt. Gilroy certainly does not fit the mould of an archetypical Schmidt winger, but his assets are undeniable.
Unlike Andrew Trimble, Dave Kearney or Fergus McFadden, the 24-year-old is in receipt of genuine, searing pace. No facet is lacking more in the Irish camp. He has five Pro 12 tries thus far this season, including a cracker against the Scarlets last weekend, and crossed the whitewash on 11 occasions last year.
It feels unlikely he’ll get a spot ahead of Keith Earls, Simon Zebo or Trimble, but his dynamism and willingness to have a cut, might just perturb Messers Brown, Watson and Nowell.
Few names feature more prominently than the centre's when the Schmidt detractors embark on a rant. If Payne does not recover in time, McCloskey might finally get the nod, with Robbie Henshaw donning the number 13 jersey. Still, a lá the World Cup, Keith Earls could slot in directly for the Kiwi.
Thing is, the English 10—12 axis of George Ford and Owen Farrell, lack ballast without someone like Brad Barritt.
They are undersized and still developing as a partnership, so the sight of the 17st bulldozer powering down their channel will not be a welcome one. Throw in McCloskey’s pace, footwork and offloading and, once more, a tentative side are being forced to combat an unknown quantity.
The one caveat is asking Henshaw to defend the 13 channel for the first time at this level. While Jonathan Joseph has his flaws when defending, he is lethal with ball in hand, as evidenced by his hat trick in Rome. Also the exciting Wasps centre Elliot Daly has made Jones' 23, so it might be a step too far, even for Henshaw.
Josh Van Der Flier
Another tyro with zero Test experience. But, from a horses for courses perspective, the Leinster openside could be tailor-made for Twickenham. Sean O’Brien is gone, while Tommy O’Donnell has hardly put a foot wrong and is deserving of his place.
However, Van Der Flier is somewhat of a breakdown savant, a genuinely quality poacher. England’s back row of Robshaw, Haskell and Vunipola are abrasive and formidable but low on nous. Vunipola excluded, their contribution come ruck time is rarely more than clear outs.
Van Der Flier covers ground at an incredible rate, and might just have the speed of foot and thought to slow and downright steal English ball. His carrying and defence are not lacking in heft either and his Ireland introduction is inevitable, so it may as well be now.
The first on the list that would take his place on the bench if selected. Ian Madigan’s versatility and place kicking should not be overlooked, but Jackson has marshalled a very impressive Ulster back line this season and deserves his shot.
He takes the ball flat on the gain line and, if Ireland are still within touching distance at 60 minutes, he has the guile to up the tempo and burden tiring English limbs.
If Sexton does not finish the game for a third time in as many rounds, Ireland are better served having a number 10 who has been performing the role admirably week in, week out all season.
Mike McCarthy’s season ending concussion means that the Connacht lock should get a place on the bench this weekend. Devin Toner and Donnacha Ryan will comprise the second row, which allows the uncapped Dillane to show himself as a potent impact player.
His has the type of power and athleticism Ireland have missed without Ian Henderson, though Dillane has a way to go before being considered in the same light as the injured Ulsterman. That said, from lock, Ireland need more destructive ball carrying, and the young Kerry native just might provide it.