Monday 23 October 2017

Luke Fitzgerald takes centre stage as Joe Schmidt rolls out big guns

Rugby

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Joe Schmidt will name his strongest line-up yet for Saturday's warm-up clash against Wales, with Six Nations heroes Rob Kearney, Robbie Henshaw, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray and Peter O'Mahony primed for their first run-out of the season.

The Ireland coach will pick his final 31-man squad for the World Cup on Sunday and the clash with Warren Gatland's men is a final chance to impress the coaching staff.

The back three and centre positions remain the hardest to call and Schmidt may field Luke Fitzgerald alongside Henshaw in the centre to allow him to demonstrate his versatility, with Keith Earls and Dave Kearney expected to start on the wings.

Tommy Bowe may link up with Ulster in order to get some game-time in their pre-season friendly against Edinburgh, while Andrew Trimble could be given an opportunity to prove his fitness off the bench.

Sexton and Murray are expected to renew their partnership at half-back, with Paddy Jackson covering the fly-half off the bench.

Primed

Up front, Nathan White is primed for his first start at tighthead after making his debut off the bench against Scotland, with Jack McGrath and Richardt Strauss making up the front-row.

It remains to be seen if Marty Moore features off the bench as he races to shake off the foot injury that kept him out of training this week and, if he doesn't make it, Tadhg Furlong may make his debut off the bench if Schmidt decides to wrap Mike Ross in cotton wool.

On the other side, Cian Healy will not feature but sources indicate that the loosehead prop has made significant progress in recent days and is likely to make the cut on Sunday.

Paul O'Connell will lead the side on his final appearance for Ireland on home soil and Schmidt could partner him with Iain Henderson, with Donnacha Ryan covering from the bench.

O'Mahony looks set to join Jordi Murphy and Jamie Heaslip in the back-row.

Irish Independent

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