Rugby World Cup: Joe Schmidt to include Iain Henderson in strong team against Canada
In-form Ulster lock set to start in strong side for World Cup opener against Canada
Joe Schmidt looks set to reward Iain Henderson's flying form with a World Cup start against Canada on Saturday.
The Ireland coach is likely to name a strong team for the tournament opener and captain Paul O'Connell is expected to partner the Ulster powerhouse in the second-row in Cardiff as he leads the side into the campaign alongside a host of the men who have delivered back-to-back Six Nations successes.
Henderson was the stand-out player in the warm-up game against Wales and has a chance to make the No 4 jersey his own as Devin Toner misses out.
Cian Healy looks like making his return from neck surgery off the bench as Schmidt keeps faith with Jack McGrath, Rory Best and Mike Ross up front, while the first-choice back-row of Peter O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip are likely to line up together.
Healy has not played since Leinster's Champions Cup semi-final defeat to Toulon last April, but has trained for the last number of weeks and should get an opportunity to prove his fitness at the Millennium Stadium.
Tommy Bowe looks set to pay the price for his poor display against England at Twickenham as Rob Kearney returns from his knee injury to link up with his brother Dave who is the favourite to get the nod on the right wing, while Keith Earls could be chosen on the left with Simon Zebo the likely to cover from the bench.
The rest of the backline is expected to remain unchanged from that final warm-up defeat to the World Cup hosts, with Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne set to fill the half-back and centre positions.
Schmidt and his team travelled to the Welsh capital last night to step up their preparations, with Canada also naming their team this afternoon,
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Their coach Kieran Crowley is fretting over the fitness of Ospreys star Tyler Ardron and out-half Harry Jones and the former All Black is talking Ireland up ahead of the opening game.
"I still see them as one of the favourites for the cup, most pundits would," he said.
"They would probably have looked at the pool draw and would have seen the end of the tournament as their time to peak. It's no good peaking before you start."
Possible Ireland team (v Canada) - R Kearney; D Kearney; J Payne, R Henshaw, K Earls; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best, M Ross; I Henderson, P O'Connell (capt); P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.