The Left Wing Six Nations preview: Some controversial omissions as Luke Fitzgerald picks his team for Scotland
The Six Nations is just days away and there is still plenty for Joe Schmidt to think about as he selects his team for the opening game away to Scotland.
There are a couple of tough decisions to be made for Schmidt, especially in the back row and back three, but on this week's episode of The Left Wing, Luke Fitzgerald added in a few selection curveballs of his own.
Every Wednesday, The Left Wing features Luke's unique blend of analysis and opinion as he takes you inside the game to give an honest and informed assessment of the performance of the Ireland team and the four provinces.
Picking his Ireland side, Fitzgerald opted - contrary to what Joe Schmidt is reportedly thinking - to drop Rob Kearney out of the starting team. The Leinster fullback impressed during Ireland's famous win over the All Blacks in November, and although Andrew Trimble is an injury doubt for Saturday, Fitzgerald kept the Ulster wing in his team.
"Obviously Trimby is a bit of a doubt but he is a guy that Joe has relied on and has played some great rugby over the last couple of years," Fitzgerald said.
"If he's fit, he will probably play. I picked Earlsy over Rob because he has probably played a bit more rugby than Rob so far. Obviously Simon is in the in-form guy. He is playing some great attacking rugby, scoring loads of tries and he has that left foot kicking game as well. Zebo has to play, and the other two depends on Trimby's injury. The one thing with Keith - and it is similar to myself - is that he is very versatile and I wonder if he will lose out off the back of that."
Fitzgerald also explained why Kearney is a favourite of Joe Schmidt.
"His backfield cover is superb, you get a lot of the unseen work with Rob," Fitzgerald said.
"He offers great solidity there. Joe knows him, he trusts him and he has played well in big matches."
In what was probably his most controversial call, Fitzgerald omitted Jack McGrath - a favourite to start for the Lions in New Zealand this summer - in favour of Cian Healy, forcing him to defend arguably the most eye-catching selection decision since Warren Gatland dropped Brian O'Driscoll on the 2013 Lions tour.
"I just thought Cian was brilliant against Castres," he said.
"Horses for courses, I think this is a real strength in the team. You have two guys there who are world class. Obviously Cian has struggled a bit with injuries but talking to a few guys in the camp, they think he is coming back into a bit of form.
"I think they will pick Jack, but I'd pick Cian."
Watch this week's episode of The Left Wing below, where Fitzgerald also discusses Joe Schmidt's meticulous attention to detail, as well as analysing all of Ireland's Six Nations opponents.
'Six Nations coverage on the Left Wing, in association with Aer Lingus, the official airline to the Irish rugby team.
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