The Ireland team that can keep up Six Nations momentum against Italy
Four changes, but it could be five if Calvin Nash's injury is as bad as it looked.
With six minutes to go in Marseille, this impressive Ireland team won themselves a lineout inside the France 22 and the realisation struck that victory was all but assured.
France had done their best to stay in the fight but players like Bundee Aki, Hugo Keenan, Joe McCarthy and Caelan Doris were coming up with momentum stoppers. James Lowe got in on the party by enveloping Thomas Ramos in a tackle, getting Robbie Henshaw's assistance as another turnover was secured.
Andy Farrell is well aware of the fact that he is missing the 2025 Six Nations [he will be on his Lions sabbatical]. He wants to leave this Ireland team as reigning champions. If he can, he would love to leave with a series win away in South Africa, this summer. But, first things first.
Following that 38-17 win over France, Ireland will be the scorching favourites to retain their title. Whether they can clinch consecutive Grand Slams - a feat not achieved in 32 years - may depend on the trip to Twickenham, in March. Next up, though are an Italy side that face England in their opener. We are playing the coach here and making some changes we would like to see for the next game out, a Aviva Stadium, next weekend.
Possible changes to the Ireland team
The week break that comes after next Saturday's Italy game could see Andy Farrell go with another strong Ireland team. Another bonus point win, secured at home, would leave Ireland in a strong position as the other nations pick each other off.
Farrell showed in the World Cup that he is fond of going with strong XVs and not tossing out Test caps for sentiment's sake. All that considered, though, this is the team we feel could do a number on Italy while rotating players in a few positions.
We star with the right wing. If Calvin Nash is fit, give him another start. He pulled up in the final five minutes against France, though, so Jordan Larmour could slot in. There will be a temptation, with Farrell, to build up the Jamison Gibson-Park relationship with Jack Crowley, for future battles ahead. We would bring in Conor Murray, though, and hope to finish the campaign with a run of JGP and Crowley starts.
There may be one front row tweak by Farrell, but we are going with two. Give Rónan Kelleher and Finlay Bealham starts but keep some big guns on that replacements bench. The biggest call is one we will be interested in seeing if Farrell goes with. We are dropping Peter O'Mahony to the bench, starting Ryan Baird at blindside and giving the captaincy to Caelan Doris. The Leinster No.8 is being groomed for the big job, so Italy at home is an ideal education for him, with captain Pete nearby for guidance.
Finally, we stick with the 6:2 bench split but bring in Craig Casey and Nick Timoney for some pop off the bench.
OUR IRELAND TEAM
15. Hugo Keenan
14. Calvin Nash/Jordan Larmour
13. Robbie Henshaw
12. Bundee Aki
11. James Lowe
10. Jack Crowley
9. Conor Murray
1. Andrew Porter
2. Rónan Kelleher
3. Finlay Bealham
4. Tadhg Beirne
5. Joe McCarthy
6. Ryan Baird
7. Josh van der Flier
8. Caelan Doris (captain)
Replacements: Dan Sheehan, Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan, Peter O'Mahony, Nick Timoney, Craig Casey, Ciarán Frawley.
Andy Farrell will name his Ireland team this Thursday afternoon (February 8).
WILL CONNORS & LINDSAY PEAT ON HOUSE OF RUGBY
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