Sunday 25 September 2016

The Ireland XV Joe Schmidt should start against Wales in Six Nations opener

Published 07/01/2016 | 14:56

Stuart McCloskey, CJ Stander and Garry Ringrose should see action in this year's Six Nations
Stuart McCloskey, CJ Stander and Garry Ringrose should see action in this year's Six Nations

On the back of Rugby World Cup disappointment and at the beginning of a new four-year cycle, is it time for Joe Schmidt to make more risks with his selection.

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The result against Wales on February 7 will shape Ireland's fortunes in the tournament as they bid for three straight titles in a row.

With a number of leaders retired and injured, is it time for Schmidt to throw caution to the wind and experiment.

Here's the starting XV, I believe the Kiwi should start against Warren Gatland's side in a month's time:

15. Robbie Henshaw

The Connacht star is expected to be fit for the beginning of the competition and is worth having a look at in the full-back role. Pat Lam has deployed the Westmeath man there for his province and the timing of his runs into the line are impressive. Suspect in the air? Ask Alex Goode.

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14. Simon Zebo

His progress in Ireland's set up under Schmidt has been gradual but has the dynamism and awareness to play a big part in this year's Six Nations.

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13. Garry Ringrose

If you're old enough, you're good enough. The 20-year-old has been turning heads this season with Leinster. He glides across the ground and past defenders and his awareness is sharp. With Jared Payne still struggling to return, he's the most natural 13 at our disposal and he's got Brian O'Driscoll's endorsement.

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12. Stuart McCloskey

McCloskey has been a massive ball-carrier for Ulster this season and is a big presence in defence. His off-loading ability is tremendous and if Ireland are to adopt a more expansive style, as many have called for, he could be ideally suited. Paddy Jackson's form at Ulster has been helped by his presence and he may have a similar relationship with Johnny Sexton.

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11. Keith Earls

The Rugby World Cup proved that Earls is one of our most potent finishers and his return from injury this week suggests that he will be at the peak of his powers in February.

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10. Jonathan Sexton

Sexton is coming under pressure from an in-form Jackson but is still Ireland primary number 10. Erratic displays at times this year have raised questions but he can still deliver at the highest stage. Schmidt's man in the Irish backline.

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9. Conor Murray

The 26-year-old looks perfectly poised to act as more of a playmaker in 2016. His tactical kicking and sniping runs will be critical to our chances.

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1. Jack McGrath

The Leinster prop has been making plenty of impact off the bench and I think he needs to start. It's a coin toss between him and Cian Healy but his age profile and Healy's knee surgery makes me side with McGrath.

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2. Rory Best

Likely to be Ireland's captain for the Six Nations campaign. The 33-year-old has captained Ireland four times in the past, recording three victories. He's tenacious at the breakdown and his lineout throwing has looked more solid under Les Kiss at Ulster.

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3. Mike Ross

Tadhg Furlong wasn't involved in the Irish training camp this week which doesn't bode well for his chances. Nathan White has been integral to a solid Connacht scrummaging unit and made a good imapct from the bench at the World Cup. Mike Ross is preferred to Marty Moore for the big games at Leinster. Schmidt unlikely to drop Mike Ross... he never does.

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4. Devin Toner

The second row options look extremely limited for Schmidt this spring. With O'Connell gone to the south of France, Toner will be the man to lead the Irish llineout which has operated so successfully in recent years.

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5. Donnacha Ryan

If he shakes off his injury, Donnacha Ryan should partner Toner. Iain Henderson is likely to be the Irish number 5 into the future but his absence gives Ryan his chance.

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6. CJ Stander

The newly-qualified South African has been one of the most consistent performers for any of the provinces over the last two years. The fact that he can be used as a big ball-carrier for set plays will surely play into his favour.

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7. Sean O'Brien

A serious candidate for captaincy. His intensity and physicality will be pivotal if Ireland are to claim three titles on the trot.

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8. Jamie Heaslip

The Kildare man has come in for some bad press over the past few weeks over his dealings with the media, which has been strange. On the field, he has a brilliant football brain. Some extra aggression and we should see Heaslip at his best.

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