An exciting, new-look Ireland team that can take it to the Maori All Blacks
"Without a doubt, he'll at least start those games."
We are a week out from the first game of the Irish rugby summer tour, in New Zealand. On Monday, Andy Farrell will name his Ireland team for the first game, against the Maori All Blacks.
Given that the tour opener, at the Waikato Stadium in Hamilton, will take place four days before the First Test against New Zealand, at Eden Park, there will not be much crossover in the starting XVs for both games. Ireland have also brought in Connacht coach Pete Wilkins to oversee a lot of the preparations and training for the two midweek matches.
That does not necessarily mean that the players that start the Maori game will not feature in the Test Series. Stand-out performances will be noted by Andy Farrell and his staff, with opportunities definitely there for the taking, over the course of the three Tests.
On House of Rugby URC [LISTEN from 26:45 below], Greg O'Shea, Lindsay Peat and Jason Hennessy discussed how Ireland could use their squad to maximise the return in what will be five tough games.
'We need to find out about ourselves now' - Andy Farrell
There is no doubt that Ireland will be targeting the First Test at Eden Park as the crux of the entire tour. Get off to a winning start and history is made - the first away Test win over the All Blacks. Lose, and it could be a long few weeks.
On the three-Test tour to New Zealand, in 2012, Ireland copped a beating in the First Test, rallied to push the Kiwis to the brink, in Christchurch, then got a record Test thumping [60-0] in the final game.
Before he flew out to New Zealand, Andy Farrell spoke of the 70-strong touring party [players, coaches and support staff] heading south. He spoke well about the entire touring party needing that strong belief that something special could be on the cards if they all pull together.
"It's the biggest tour that Ireland have ever done [in the professional era]. It will need the energy and cohesiveness of all 70 to make this happen the way that we want it to happen. If two or three don't believe, we're not writing the history that we want to write.
"In that regard, it's brilliant, and we're just finding out more about ourselves. When it comes to the World Cup, I reckon we need around 40 players that are good enough to play knock-out rugby. I'm talking quarter finals, semi finals, finals... we need to find out about ourselves now, so we can't lose.
"Some guys, on this tour, will fall by the wayside. Some guys, on this tour, will flourish where we didn't think they could flourish, because of the extreme pressure. I have no doubts that guys that didn't make the tour will have an unbelievable pre-season and start next season with a bang, and play themselves back into this. But, we'll find out a hell of a lot about ourselves on this tour. That's why it is priceless to us."
The big selections calls for that first Ireland team
"I love seeing Jimmy O'Brien in there," says Greg O'Shea of the Leinster winger's call-up. The Kildare native has been in training with Ireland before but is, as yet, uncapped.
Jason Hennessy says O'Brien is in the squad on merit but still feels it will be tough for him to shift out the likes of Mack Hansen or James Lowe from the Test spot. "I think there's a clear two teams in that squad," O'Shea states. "They have a clear idea of an Ireland team to face the Maoris, then a full-strength one to face New Zealand."
The Maori All Blacks squad has some excellent players in there - TJ Perenare, Brad Weber, Josh Ioane, Tyrel Lomax and three-time Wallaby Jermain Ainsley - so this Ireland team for the midweekers will be tested. For the first game, we have the First Test in mind, too, and are starting guys we feel will not be involved in the Eden Park XV.
We have also made selections based on what we reckon will be a game with both sides not afraid to keep the ball in play, and cut loose whenever possible.
Our biggest call is starting Peter O'Mahony over Nick Timoney, at openside, as this new-look squad needs some experience in there, and a captain that knows the terrain, and the opponents. There is no outhalf on our bench as Ciarán Frawley and Mike Lowry can both slot in there, if Harry Byrne needs to come off.
OUR IRELAND TEAM TO FACE MAORI ALL BLACKS
15. Mike Lowry
14. Jordan Larmour
13. James Hume
12. Ciarán Frawley
11. Jimmy O'Brien
10. Harry Byrne
9. Craig Casey
1. Jeremy Loughman
2. Dave Heffernan
3. Tom O'Toole
4. Joe McCarthy
5. Kieran Treadwell
6. Ryan Baird
7. Peter O'Mahony (captain)
8. Gavin Coombes
REPLACEMENTS: Rob Herring, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, Tadhg Beirne, Cian Prendergast, Nick Timoney, Conor Murray, Robbie Henshaw.
WATCH HOUSE OF RUGBY HERE: