Neil Francis omits Madigan, Zebo and Dave Kearney from first choice Ireland squad
Irish Independent columnist Neil Francis has selected the side he believes Joe Schmidt will send out to face Wales at the Aviva Stadium for their Six Nations opener on February 7.
Schmidt named a 35-man panel yesterday which contained few surprises, though plenty of promise. The injury enforced absences of key players such as Iain Henderson, Tommy Bowe and Peter O’Mahony will surely take their toll over the course of a tournament Ireland are hoping to win for the third time in as many years.
Francis believes the loss of Henderson will prove most costly for Schmidt, given his ferocious physicality and all round industry.
As a former lock, ‘Franno’, if the decision were his, would deploy Leinster back row Rhys Ruddock in the engine room. Though ultimately believes Schmidt will opt for Ruddock at number six, in O’Mahony’s stead.
Furthermore, he reckons Andrew Trimble will be the most bespoke replacement for Bowe at the Kiwi's disposal, under the assumption that the kick-chase game will be a prominent feature of Ireland’s offensive strategy.
He retains the fomer Leinster coach's tried and tested midfield partnership of Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne, neither of whom have played any significant amount of rugby over the last few months due to injury. Luke Fitzgerald is selected on the left wing, while three of the front five are from Leinster, with the exceptions being new captain Rory Best and Donnacha Ryan.
R Kearney; Trimble, Payne, Henshaw, Fitzgerald, Sexton, Murray; McGrath, Best, Moore, Ryan, Toner, Ruddock, O’Brien, Heaslip.
Reps: S Cronin, J Cronin, Furlong, Stander, O’Donnell. Reddan, Jackson, Earls.