Ireland team that should face Wales in the Autumn Nations Cup
Some exciting and experienced names are back in the picture.
Andrew Conway tried his best to park the disappointment of a missed Guinness Six Nations title, on Sunday morning, as he looked ahead to the Autumn Nations Cup campaign.
"There’s going to be a different feel to it," he said. "It’s new format, a couple of new teams involved and a different time of year so there’s plenty to be excited about."
He did a good job of selling it but Conway and his teammates will still need another few days to get over the disappointment of their 35-27 loss to France. England are the 2020 Guinness Six Nations champions, but there is a whole new trophy to play for in the coming weeks. After months in stasis, rugby is coming at us fast.
Following the game, Ireland head coach Andy Farrell did not anticipate any players to miss out on the Wales game (on November 13) after a tough night in Paris.
"We're not too bad. As you would expect, a few bumps and bruises from a physical game like that, as you would expect coming to France, but I would expect the casualty list not to be too bad."
While that is a positive, the more uplifting news comes in the form of additional players expected to be available for the Autumn Nations Cup.
Iain Henderson's three-week ban expires on Monday, November 9, meaning he will come back into the mix. Keith Earls, Ryan Baird and Ronan Kelleher should all be available, too, after recent injury issues. James Lowe is now Irish-qualified and will be in contention for that No.11 jersey.
Garry Ringrose and Jordan Larmour are medium-term injuries while Tadhg Furlong (back and calf injuries) has not played for Leinster yet this season. Dave Kilcoyne's ankle injury ended up requiring surgery so he is out of the picture for the next stretch.
Unless this tournament explodes (in a good way) as a concept, produces stunning games and captures the public's imagination, this is likely to be the only ever staging of the Autumn Nations Cup. Winners-keepers.
There is a bit more room to manoeuvre, in terms of team selections, than you may have in a Six Nations, but expect Andy Farrell to pick strong XVs for the Wales and England games, especially as there is an eight-day turnaround between the two games. The Georgia game (in Dublin) on November 28 may well prove optimum for giving starts to the likes of Ryan Baird, Stuart McCloskey, Shane Daly and even someone like Craig Casey.
For us, the Wales game is primed to start Lowe and fit again Leinster hooker Ronan Kelleher. Hugo Keenan can shift to fullback, where has has experience with Leinster, and Jacob Stockdale can drop down to the bench and take on a 'finisher' role.
Iain Henderson can resume his partnership with James Ryan in the second row and Farrell could do well to look at rewarding Tadhg Beirne for two good games by giving him a crack at blindside. Beirne over Doris is a tight call and, in truth, we would have no issues with the Leinster flanker starting and both Beirne and Baird covering second and back-row from the bench.
Our Ireland team to face Wales
15. Hugo Keenan
14. Andrew Conway
13. Robbie Henshaw
12. Bundee Aki
11. James Lowe
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray
1. Cian Healy
2. Ronan Kelleher
3. Andrew Porter
4. James Ryan
5. Iain Henderson
6. Tadhg Beirne
7. Will Connors
8. CJ Stander
Subs: Rob Herring, Jack McGrath, Finlay Bealham, Ryan Baird, Caelan Doris, Jamison Gibson-Park, Ross Byrne, Jacob Stockdale.
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