Two big calls in the Ireland team that should start against South Africa
"Next week will be an even bigger test for us."
Bundee Aki was fresh off the field, at Stade de la Beaujoire, on Saturday with Tonga in his rear-view, when thoughts had already turned to South Africa. His Ireland team have scored 20 tries in their opening two games, but Aki is expecting the challenges to get much, much tougher.
Ireland arrived at the World Cup with big expectations, albeit on the toughest side of the draw. The Springboks and Scotland are up next, and Andy Farrell looks to have settled on the main batch of players to deliver the performances necessary to go deep into the tournament.
Not many changes expected for Ireland team
South Africa have looked mightily impressive, too, and have dispatched Scotland with ease before resting several frontliners and still having a bonus point secured, against Romania, after less than 12 minutes.
In terms of injury concerns, and players who have yet to feature, Dan Sheehan should be available for consideration, while Jack Conan is not so certain. He has not played since the warm-up win over Italy, in early August, and probably has a better chance to feature against Scotland.
Bundee Aki is "grand", according to Mike Catt, despite shipping a heavy blow, getting tackled, against Tonga. There was no definitive Sunday update on Finlay Bealham, when Catt spoke to the media. The Connacht prop was taken off, under concussion protocols. Depending on Return To Play protocols, he could be sat out for 12 days.
In terms of starting XV selection, there may be a temptation to bring in a Joe McCarthy to bulk up the second row, move Tadhg Beirne to blindside and have Peter O'Mahony [crucial for lineouts, and more] at openside. Doing that would mean benching the World Rugby Player of the Year, Josh van der Flier, though.
We would make only one change from the side that started against Tonga - bring back Jamison Gibson-Park to start No.9. Conor Murray is an extremely viable option, and we would not quibble a bit if he started, but Gibson-Park and Johnny Sexton together are a potent duo.
The other big call is hooker, and it will be interesting to see just how Dan Sheehan holds up in training, this week. We would start Rónan Kelleher again, and cede to the coaching and medical staff on the back-up - if Sheehan passes his markers, put him in reserve and you have a great option for the final 20, 25 minutes.
OUR IRELAND TEAM TO FACE SOUTH AFRICA
15. Hugo Keenan
14. Mack Hansen
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Bundee Aki
11. James Lowe
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Jamison Gibson-Park
1. Andrew Porter
2. Rónan Kelleher
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Tadhg Beirne
5. James Ryan
6. Peter O’Mahony
7. Josh van der Flier
8. Caelan Doris
Replacements: Rob Herring, Dave Kilcoyne, Finlay Bealham/Tom O'Toole, Joe McCarthy, Ryan Baird, Conor Murray, Jack Crowley, Robbie Henshaw
Ireland will officially name their team to face South Africa on Thursday afternoon.
HOUSE OF RUGBY WITH PETER STRINGER & JOHNE MURPHY:
- Bundee Aki shows another side of himself before reminding us all of his best qualities
- Roy Keane cracks jokes with Johnny Sexton and Andy Farrell at Ireland training camp
- Paul O'Connell on his most treasured jersey swap and toughest opponent
- Tommy Bowe backs Jack Crowley as World Cup 'deputy' to Johnny Sexton