Andy Farrell looks set to retain Stuart McCloskey at inside centre for Ireland’s Guinness Six Nations opener against Wales on Saturday.
The Ulster centre started all three of the November wins over South Africa, Australia and Fiji and has remained in form despite his province’s struggles in recent weeks.
With Robbie Henshaw sidelined with a wrist injury, Farrell is facing a call between McCloskey, Bundee Aki and Leinster starlet Jamie Osborne who are all in Portugal for the team’s pre-Six Nations training camp.
It appears that McCloskey will come out on top in that race, meaning that Ireland will have a settled look for the Cardiff clash.
Captain Johnny Sexton is fit to lead the team after training without a mask yesterday for the first time since suffering his facial injury on New Year’s Day.
He’ll partner Jamison Gibson-Park at half-back, with McCloskey joining Garry Ringrose in midfield and Hugo Keenan, Mack Hansen and James Lowe on the wing.
The pack is set to have a very familiar look, with Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan and Tadhg Furlong starting in the front-row, James Ryan joining Tadhg Beirne at lock and the back-row of Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris joining up once again.
On the bench, Farrell may well be leaning towards selecting Ross Byrne to cover the out-half position, while the No 23 shirt is up for grabs with Osborne pushing Aki for that spot.
Rónan Kelleher has been training but is unlikely to make it, meaning Rob Herring will cover hooker with Cian Healy and Dave Kilcoyne battling to back up Porter and Finlay Bealham in reserve at tighthead.
Iain Henderson is likely to cover the second-rows, while Ryan Baird is pushing Jack Conan for the back-row reserve spot and Conor Murray is expected to remain at No 21.
Possible Ireland team v Wales – H Keenan; M Hansen, G Ringrose, S McCloskey, J Lowe; J Sexton (capt), J Gibson-Park; A Porter, D Sheehan, T Furlong; T Beirne, J Ryan; P O’Mahony, J van der Flier, C Doris. Reps: R Herring, D Kilcoyne/C Healy, F Bealham, I Henderson, J Conan/R Baird, C Murray, R Byrne, B Aki.