"You’ve got to find a spot for him" - Ireland's big Six Nations selection calls 1 year ago

"You’ve got to find a spot for him" - Ireland's big Six Nations selection calls

"He's definitely someone who I can see the coaching team sticking by."

On Wednesday, Ireland head coach Andy Farrell will name his match-day squad for the 2021 Six Nations opener against Wales. There are expected to be at least two changes from the Ireland XV that beat Scotland 31-16, last December, in their most recent game.

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Farrell looks to have struck upon his front- and back-row combinations as well as the half-back pairing of Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton. Elsewhere, though, he has big calls to make in the second row, midfield and back three.

On the latest House of Rugby Ireland episode [LISTEN from 34:00 below], host Eimear Considine ran through the big team selection calls with Fergus McFadden and Ian Madigan as part of a bumper Six Nations preview.

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Hugo Keenan Will Connors and Hugo Keenan after their Ireland debuts against Italy, in October 2020. (Credit: Sportsfile)

With Jacob Stockdale confirmed to be missing the opening two Six Nations games, with bone bruising on his leg, it leaves Farrell and his coaching team with some tough back three questions.

"Had Jordan Larmour not struggled so much under the high ball (against Munster) last weekend, he was a dead-cert," says Considine. "But I think he almost played himself out of a starting position at fullback. That’s my opinion, now. What do you think?"

"I’m not so sure, to be honest," McFadden replies.

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"He obviously hadn’t played that much rugby but then, I think I mentioned it earlier on about JJ’s kicking, that day was… the TV never does justice to what the weather is like. When the wind swirls in Thomond, it’s very tough to get under. The rest of the guys, as well, found it very tough under the high ball.

"It just looked like such a swirly day. Like, Hugo Keenan uncharacteristically didn’t catch a couple clean. It’s one of those days where, as a back three, you jump at a point where you think you can get the ball in the air, and it moves so much. It’s just so difficult.

"I still think Jordan will start. The back three and the back row are so competitive; they really are. But with Jacob injured - and Andrew Conway hasn’t played that much rugby [and] James Lowe hasn’t played that much since the autumn - I’d probably say it would be Keith Earls, who has played so good for Ireland for so long. He has to be in there. And then Jordan on the right with Hugo fullback.

"I know Shane Daly has done so well, as well, for Munster. But I just think the lack of rugby for Andy Conway and James Lowe would, I’d imagine, maybe rule them out of starting."

Madigan agrees with McFadden's sentiments and says Keenan, the Leinster star who only made his Test debut last October, is 'the form guy and the most consistent'.

"He was very good in the Autumn Nations Cup'," Madigan adds, "so you’ve got to find a spot for him. And with Jacob unavailable, it only makes sense to play him at 15. He’s a guy that’s making great strides and, every time he plays he seems to improve. He’s definitely someone who I can see the coaching team sticking by... Earlsie has been rock solid on the wing and then the other spot is where the likes of James Lowe, Conway and Larmour are competing for."

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Beirne Tadhg Beirne is pressing for a place in the Irish pack for the Wales game. (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)

For Considine, Robbie Henshaw has to start at inside centre and should partner Garry Ringrose. McFadden believes the Henshaw-Ringrose cohesion, from their time together at Leinster, sways it and means Bundee Aki may miss out.

For McFadden, captain Johnny Sexton starting at 10 is not even up for debate with Ross Byrne deputising for his Leinster teammate. Conor Murray is backed to renew his long-running partnership with Sexton.

In the second row, Madigan speaks highly of Tadhg Beirne's recent form. "Consistently," he notes, "Tadhg is coming up with three, four turnovers a game. His carry game has been excellent and has been an area of his game that has really grown. I'm sure we're going to see him in some capacity."

As for the front row, McFadden has backed Ronan Kelleher to get in ahead of Rob Herring at No.2 while Tadhg Furlong and Dave Kilcoyne, for now, are bench options that will provide real punch and impetus.

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House of Rugby's Ireland XV to face Wales

15. Hugo Keenan
14. Jordan Larmour
13. Gary Ringrose
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. Keith Earls
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray

1. Cian Healy
2. Ronan Kelleher
3. Andrew Porter
4. Iain Henderson
5. James Ryan
6. Peter O'Mahony
7. Will Connors*
8. CJ Stander

Subs: Rob Herring, Dave Kilcoyne, Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne, Josh van der Flier, Jamison Gibson-Park, Ross Byrne, James Lowe.

*Updated after Caelan Doris pulled out of squad with concussion-like symptoms

YOU CAN WATCH THAT EPISODE HERE: