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23rd Feb 2022

Ireland team that should face Italy after James Lowe and Iain Henderson news

Patrick McCarry

Ireland team

‘Iain is well and has left Ireland camp to complete his period of isolation at home.’

Changes will be made to the Ireland team, come the Friday afternoon announcement by the IRFU, but do not expect too many.

No sooner had the Zoom press chats with Johnny Sexton and Dave Kilcoyne ended that inboxes pinged across the land with tough Iain Henderson news.

It may feel as if Covid-19 is slipping back from that long-held space in the forefront of our minds, but it has not gone away. Henderson tested positive for Covid on Monday and the result was confirmed today. He is heading back to Ulster so Andy Farrell must plan without a guy he was probably tempted to start against Italy.

With Henderson being ruled out and with new squad additions announced on Monday – Jimmy O’Brien and James Lowe – we felt it was only right to revisit the Ireland XV we selected on the Monday after the defeat to France. There are still four changes to the team that started against France, while our bench has an exciting feel to it.

Ireland players, from left, James Lowe, Caelan Doris and Hugo Keenan. (Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile)

Four changes to our Ireland team to face Italy

Let us start with the only unchanged areas from the team that started against France. Johnny Sexton may have declared himself “good to go” for Italy, but we are sticking with Jamison Gibson-Park and Joey Carbery as our 9 and 10.

With Henderson out, we are now sticking with Tadhg Beirne and James Ryan in the second row. We were originally looking to put Beirne at blindside, but are now putting Caelan Doris there. Josh van der Flier retains the No.7 jersey but we are freshening it up with Gavin Coombes replacing Jack Conan for a crack at the Azzurri. Nick Timoney is our live-wire back-row on the bench. He could do damage untold in a looser final 20 to 25 minutes.

The shoulder injury that ruled Rónan Kelleher out of the Six Nations has opened the door for Dan Sheehan to get a run at hooker, with Rob Herring the experienced back-up. Andrew Porter and Tadhg Furlong should pack in a lot into 50-minute shifts before we call on Dave Kilcoyne and Finlay Bealham to finish the game out.

In midfield, Robbie Henshaw comes in to start alongside Bundee Aki, with James Hume backing them up from the bench. Hugo Keenan is our fullback again while Mack Hansen keeps the returning James Lowe out of the starting XV. Our one back three switch would be dropping in Rob Baloucoune from the get-go.

Our Ireland team to face Italy

15. Hugo Keenan
14. Robert Baloucoune
13. Robbie Henshaw
12. Bundee Aki
11. Mack Hansen
10. Joey Carbery
9. Jamison Gibson-Park

1. Andrew Porter
2. Dan Sheehan
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Tadhg Beirne
5. James Ryan (captain)
6. Caelan Doris
7. Josh van der Flier
8. Gavin Coombes

Subs: Rob Herring, Dave Kilcoyne, Finlay Bealham, Ryan Baird, Nick Timoney, Craig Casey, Jack Carty, James Hume.

Now that we have had our fun – what do we expect Andy Farrell to start with against Italy?

Dan Sheehan should get the No.2 jersey ahead of Herring but we expect Jack Conan will start at No.8 again. We also feel Johnny Sexton will get picked at outhalf by Farrell, with Carbery back on the bench.

Garry Ringrose or Robbie Henshaw is a tight call, but Henshaw may get the start to get some extra minutes under the belt. The other big call will be on the left wing. If James Lowe bumps out Mack Hansen, it will be because Farrell already has him in mind for the England and Scotland games.


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