Wednesday 13 December 2017

Baptism of fire, a barnstorming bench and other talking points from the Ireland side to face South Africa

Tom Rooney

Joe Schmidt has set out his stall for Ireland’s series-deciding showdown with South Africa in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.

Injuries to Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw have once again forced Schmidt to re-shuffle his deck as Ireland seek to became just the third side to claim a series win on South African soil.

Baptism of fire for Tiernan O’Halloran

The absences of the aforementioned Payne and Henshaw mean that O’Halloran will make his first Test start with a grand total of four minutes of international rugby under his belt, having made debuted  in last week’s loss as a replacement for Henshaw.

That he will be flanked by experienced operators Andrew Trimble and Keith Earls, who returns at the expense of Craig Gilroy, will be of some reassurance.

Indeed, the Galway man only got on the plane to South Africa because Rob Kearney was forced to pull out of the touring party at the 11th hour. Furthermore, if Simon Zebo had been available, then the 25-year-old would likely be enjoying a summer hiatus presently.

That said, his blistering form at club level all season, which culminated in a bravura try-scoring display in the Pro 12 final win over Leinster, more than warranted a place in Schmidt’s initial plans, regardless of what fate befall more recognisable names.

He will undoubtedly be subjected to an aerial bombardment from the Boks in the early goings, but O’Halloran is an assured operator and, like the man he is replacing, a wonderfully dynamic and evasive ball-carrier.

Familiar forward pack

CJ Stander’ suspension for last week’s encounter in Johannesburg meant a considerable recalibration of the back five of the scrum, while Tahdg Furlong was drafted in at tight head to allow Mike Ross some recuperation.

Schmidt has reverted to the pack that proved so dominant during the first Test in Cape Town. Ross returns to anchor the front row, Iain Henderson moves back into the engine room to continue his partnership with Devin Toner, while Stander and Jordi Murphy have been selected at 6 and 7 respectively. The evergreen Jamie Heaslip remains at number eight.

Barnstorming bench

Allister Coetzee used his replacements with aplomb in the high-veldt of Johannesburg and it was the introduction of  subsequent try scorers Warren Wheatley and Ruan Combrinck that tipped the contest irrevocably in South Africa’s favour. Incidentally, the duo will start on Saturday.

Ireland are at the end of seemingly endless season and looked understandably fatigued at high altitude. A massive effort will be required to secure the series so those that are sprung from the bench must make an immediate and seismic impact.

As such, Ultan Dillane and Sean Cronin have been recalled to the 23 and the imposing Furlong and Rhys Ruddock, impressive starters last time out, are on the bench.

Furthermore, Connacht’s free-wheeling try scorer Matt Healy is given the nod and at the least the hint of a chance to showcase his talents on the international stage.

Midfield modification

For the third week running Ireland will deploy a different centre paring as Ulster’s Stuart Olding and Luke Marshall start at 12 and 13.

That they are club mates somewhat mitigates the utilisation of such an familiar paring but it’s far from ideal when so much is at stake.

Olding was found physically wanting on occasion last week and bore the brunt of the bulldozing Damian de Allende more than he would have liked. However, his footballing nous can be a potent weapon if facilitated properly.

Marshall was outstanding in the first test, particularly with his kicking from hand, but must now focus on defending the treacherous 13 channel against de Allende, Lionel Mapoe and the marauding Springbok back row.

Offensively, with Ulsterman at 10 -Paddy Jackson – 12 and 13, the possibilities are mouth watering.

Bon voyage to bone fide legend

Eoin Reddan announced today that he will retire from rugby at the conclusion of Saturday’s game, bringing an end to a glittering and storied career. A veteran of three World Cups, who had a considerable hand in Ireland’s last two Six Nations triumphs, Reddan will be sorely missed.

Should he get off the bench, the Limerick native will win his 71st cap and, for the last time, give us a glimpse of that laser-point pass. Conor Murray, the incumbent scrum-half, earns his 50th cap, in another impressive milestone.

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