Strongest Ireland team to face New Zealand in Test opener, after squad set-back 1 month ago

Strongest Ireland team to face New Zealand in Test opener, after squad set-back

One man is already en-route to New Zealand as injury cover. More may soon follow.

For Irish rugby supporters in this neck of the globe, Monday morning arrived with some shaky news from New Zealand. It should mean Andy Farrell will have to make changes from the Ireland team he would have originally selected.

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New Zealand have their own Covid outbreak - affecting players and coaches - while Mack Hansen may now be a doubt for the First Test after also testing positive for the virus.

There was also some concerning injury news from the Ireland camp, with Iain Henderson and Rob Herring both picking up knocks in training. With only two other hookers in the 40-man squad, Niall Scannell has been called back into the fold after three years away. Rónan Kelleher is out of action, too, so Scannell gets his first call-up to an Ireland squad run by Farrell.

The updates on Hansen, Henderson and Herring mean some likely rejigging of teams and plans for Wednesday's Maori All Blacks game, and Saturday's First Test against New Zealand.

Dan Sheehan was always favourite to start, but Dave Heffernan now looks the back-up option for hooker, at Eden Park. If Henderson misses out, the second row options are:

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  • Tadhg Beirne
  • James Ryan
  • Kieran Treadwell
  • Joe McCarthy
  • Ryan Baird

Given that Tadhg Beirne was only working his way back to fitness [he has not played a game for three months], Farrell may have preferred to have him as bench cover for the First Test. The Munster forward may now go straight into the starting XV with James Ryan, and with either Kieran Treadwell or Ryan Baird as cover.

On the latest House of Rugby [LISTEN from 51:20 below], Darren Cave, Lindsay Peat, Greg O'Shea and Jason Hennessy gave their take on squad players that could push for Test involvement.

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Tadhg Beirne has played 15 times this season, but has not started a game since March 19th. (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)

Right wing spot up for grabs

Andrew Conway and Rob Baloucoune both missed out on this tour through injury, so Mack Hansen looked to be a lock to get the No.14 jersey.

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With the Connacht winger now isolating, after that positive Covid test, it leaves the door open to a number of versatile players in the squad. The most likely candidates are:

  • Jordan Larmour
  • Keith Earls
  • Jimmy O'Brien
  • Hugo Keenan

Keenan has two Ireland starts on the right wing, but Andy Farrell should stick with him at fullback. Jimmy O'Brien can easily play either wing, and featured at 14 in six Leinster games, this season.

The safer option may be to go with Keith Earls in that position, and he did finish his season in form. The pick we would go for is another guy that finished his season, for Leinster, in good shape - Jordan Larmour.

OUR IRELAND TEAM TO FACE NEW ZEALAND

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15. Hugo Keenan
14. Jordan Larmour
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. James Lowe
10. Johnny Sexton (captain)
9. Jamison Gibson-Park

1. Andrew Porter
2. Dan Sheehan
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Tadhg Beirne
5. James Ryan
6. Caelan Doris
7. Josh van der Flier
8. Jack Conan

REPLACEMENTS: Dave Heffernan, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, Ryan Baird, Peter O'Mahony, Conor Murray, Joey Carbery, Keith Earls.

Andy Farrell will name his Ireland team for the First Test against New Zealand on Thursday morning, ahead of Saturday's game.