We're confident we can correctly predict Ireland's backline to face South Africa 2 years ago

We're confident we can correctly predict Ireland's backline to face South Africa

We should know Joe Schmidt's latest Ireland squad by the end of this month but we're going two steps further.

Many of the Ireland players that will feature against South Africa in the first Test of the Guinness Series will be playing at least twice more beforehand. It would be surprising if any of Schmidt's intended starting XV to face the Springboks featured in the PRO14 matches on the November 3-5 weekend. Rory Best and Dan Leavy - both back from injury - could prove the exception.

While we are pretty sure of Ireland's front row, come November, predicting the second and back rows is a tougher task.

Those will be areas that The Hard Yards will address as November draws close but this week's talk was all about the backline [from 57:00 below]. Host Andy McGeady weighed in on the backs options with former Munster and Ireland centre James Downey.

Both feel Connacht centre Bundee Aki has a great chance of making his Test debut in midfield with his old teammate, Robbie Henshaw.

The half back pairing is devastatingly simple to predict - Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton - but trying to pin down their back-ups... not so much. We feel Kieran Marmion and the versatile Joey Carbery will deputise for the Lions.

The back three issue has been made all the more interesting by fullback Rob Kearney's injury and Jared Payne not featuring for Ulster yet this season. Andrew Conway, Darren Sweetnam, Rory O'Loughlin, Jacob Stockdale and Tiernan O'Halloran will all be pressing for inclusion too.

Downey balked at the suggestion that Ulster sensation Stockdale would be a "dark-horse" for selection. He feels there is a spot in the back three with the 21-year-old's name on it. "I do see Stockdale pushing to be a starter," he commented.

"The way Ireland are playing and the way Joe seems to be evolving the game means it's a good time to be a winger. They are having to come in and work and Joe having his players so disciplined in terms of lads have to go in and get the ball. That style suits the young lads and the hunger they have."

Downey believes Keith Earls - "a guy no-one is talking about much" - is a shoe-in for the right wing spot after continuing on with his fine form during Ireland's summer tour.

If Stockdale is accommodated on the left wing, that leaves Simon Zebo to slot it at fullback. It is a role he has carried out very well for Munster and Ireland over the last couple of seasons and a Stockdale-Zebo-Earls back three could do some serious attacking damage.

There is something about that backline that gets us excited for that South Africa game already.