Alan Quinlan: 'Why Garry Ringrose doesn't make my team to face Scotland at the World Cup'
He is one of our most naturally fluent footballers, and only four weeks ago seemed a shoo-in for a starting spot, but there is a strong case building for the omission of Garry Ringrose from Ireland's starting XV against Scotland in 15 days' time.
It is remarkable really that after four years of meticulous preparation, and the careful filtering of the squad to just 31 names, we are still unsure of Joe Schmidt's strongest side - with the largest question marks hanging over the back-row, hooker and midfield.
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The conundrum at centre is particularly interesting.
There isn't a lot to choose between Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw, Ringrose and Chris Farrell but since Aki and Farrell first pulled on green jerseys in November 2017, Schmidt has rarely had more than two of the quartet to choose from.
With only seven caps to his name Farrell is probably slightly trailing the other three but I expect him to play an important role in Japan, beyond putting in a couple of heavy shifts against Russia and Samoa.
Ringrose may be considered an unlucky No 13 were he to miss out against Scotland, but for what Ireland need on September 22 - to suppress Gregor Townsend's side and simply grind out a result - the Henshaw-Aki axis makes the most sense.
There have been issues around Ireland's kicking game, lineout and defence this year but if you analyse the three defeats our international side have suffered, and add in the Champions Cup losses of Munster and Leinster to Saracens, an obvious trend has emerged: Irish sides are losing the physical exchanges and it has been costing them dearly.
Those defeats are bound to leave mental scars.
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Wales and England have heavier artillery than the Scots but that won't stop Townsend's side trying to adopt the template and dominate us physically. With a midfield of Aki and Henshaw, that would be less likely to happen.
Some may feel that leaving Ringrose out would diminish Irish creativity in attack below already worryingly low levels. And they may be right, but if Ireland were to line out with Aki at 13 and Henshaw at 12 - a reversal of today's selection - I think the Connacht man would ask plenty of questions in the outside centre channel.
The way the warm-up games have fallen for Ringrose - being one of only three players to start the matches against Italy and England - he hasn't had a great opportunity to shine, but at the same time he hasn't had the same spark that has illuminated so many games for club and country. He also been caught rushing up in defence, perhaps trying too hard at times.
Henshaw, on the other hand, has probably benefited from being absent for a couple of below-par team performances.
Ringrose will wear the unfamiliar No 23 jersey in Dublin today - just two of his 23 Test outings have come from the bench - and as it stands I would have him filling the same shirt in Yokohama tomorrow fortnight.
It may seem harsh on Andrew Conway or Jordan Larmour, but with Joey Carbery offering a full-back and out-half option, it would allow Ringrose to cover centre and wing.
The prospect of a fresh, wound-up Ringrose coming on to test a tired Scottish defence would also be a powerful trump card to play at some stage.
Schmidt's World Cup selections will undoubtedly be made to measure; tailored for the opposition.
It is with that in mind, and, as it stands, a likely quarter-final meeting with South Africa, that I think he has leaned towards more physical options in the tighter calls - Rhys Ruddock, Jean Kleyn and Farrell making the travelling party and Jordi Murphy, Devin Toner and Will Addison staying behind, although fitness issues were also obviously a factor.
Ruddock, Kleyn and Farrell could find themselves out of the match-day 23 for the Scotland showdown, yet if Ireland were to face the Springboks on October 20 they may well be called upon to add extra grunt, from the start or otherwise, against a beefy South African outfit.
For similar reasons, Peter O'Mahony could end up being shifted across to the openside to accommodate CJ Stander and Jack Conan in the back-row if Ireland do end up renewing acquaintances with Rassie Erasmus.
Scotland's breakdown threat creates different selection dilemmas for Ireland's first outing and I think Schmidt would be better off playing O'Mahony on the blindside and Josh van der Flier at No 7, with the Leinster man's brief centred on slowing down Scottish ball.
Townsend's side are very dangerous if you kick loosely or give them space to play.
They will feel nothing went their way in their 22-13 Murrayfield loss in February, a defensive mix-up between Tommy Seymour and Sean Maitland gifting Conor Murray a try, and Stuart Hogg - who has given Ireland plenty of problems over the years - leaving the field with a shoulder injury after just 17 minutes.
O'Mahony and Stander have struggled to find top gear for some time but I think, along with Rory Best, they should get the nod for the Scotland clash.
However, and they won't need to be told, each man is probably just one more below-par performance from a big drop.
Injuries to Dan Leavy and Seán O'Brien have left Ireland a little light on No 7 options while Conan didn't do enough to force his way into the first-choice side on the back of his showing last weekend.
It will be interesting to see how he operates in tandem with Stander today, but O'Mahony's leadership, lineout work and breakdown threat still, rightly, make him the incumbent No 6.
Niall Scannell is pushing Best close but he hasn't yet done enough in green to overtake his skipper at hooker. The 37-year-old Ulster man obviously doesn't have the same zip in his legs that he once did but in terms of leadership and work-rate he still offers plenty to this side, which says a lot about how he has looked after himself over the years.
Ireland's most successful captain of all time may not be in the form of his life but he deserves every moment of this afternoon's flattering Lansdowne Road send-off. And the same goes for Schmidt.
Here's hoping that when they return to these shores in the next month or two there will be good reason to send more pats on the back in their direction.