Revealed! Tommy Bowe set for surprise return to Ireland bench as Joe Schmidt opts for experience
Tommy Bowe looks set to make a surprise return to international rugby after a gap of 18 months with Joe Schmidt set to name him on the bench for Saturday’s Six Nations opener against Scotland.
The Ireland coach is likely to name an experienced team for the must-win Murrayfield encounter despite losing Johnny Sexton, Peter O’Mahony and probably Andrew Trimble to injury.
Winger Bowe missed all of last season after damaging his knee in the 2015 World Cup quarter-final defeat to Argentina and was not selected for any of the November internationals.
Trimble is expected to be ruled out with a groin injury when Joe Schmidt names his team on Thursday afternoon, which means Keith Earls and Simon Zebo will start on the wings with Rob Kearney at full-back.
Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw should take their Leinster centre partnership to the international stage with Paddy Jackson coming in for the injured Johnny Sexton alongside Conor Murray.
Ian Keatley is set to be named on the bench, with Schmidt likely to plump for Kieran Marmion as his reserve scrum-half although Leinster’s Luke McGrath is pushing hard for inclusion.
Keatley last played for Ireland in the 2015 Championship opener against Italy and his return is a major surprise given he was not named in the initial 40-man squad for this year’s tournament and has found himself out of favour and facing the exit door at Munster.
Up front, Schmidt is set to keep faith in the front-row combination of Jack McGrath, Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong, with Donnacha Ryan likely to win the battle with Iain Henderson to start alongside Devin Toner. Henderson is in a battle with fit-again Ultan Dillane for the No 19 shirt. James Tracy and Niall Scannell are in a battle to cover hooker, with Cian Healy and Finlay Bealham poised to back up the props.
With Peter O’Mahony out, Sean O'Brien is in line to join CJ Stander and Jamie Heaslip in the back-row although he is under pressure from his Leinster colleague Josh van der Flier who would be on the bench if he misses out on a starting berth.
Possible Ireland team to face Scotland: (15-9) R Kearney; K Earls, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, S Zebo; P Jackson, C Murray; (1-8) J McGrath, R Best, T Furlong; D Ryan, D Toner; CJ Stander, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.
Replacements: (16-23) J Tracy/N Scannell, C Healy, F Bealham, I Henderson, K Marmion, I Keatley, T Bowe, J van der Flier.