Expected Ireland team for Third Test against New Zealand is a clear statement
The stage is set.
Now that the midweek games are out of the way - and that series against Maori All Blacks was levelled - focus turns to the Ireland team announcement for the Third Test against New Zealand.
Andy Farrell will name that team in the early hours of Thursday morning [Irish time], and he was able to keep all of his expected Test starters out of the firing line.
Farrell named the likes of Jack Conan, Conor Murray and Mack Hansen on his replacements' bench, but was able to leave them there as his dirt-tracker XV handled the Maori challenge. Joey Carbery was required, though, as Mike Lowry was off for a Head Injury Assessment, before returning for the closing stages.
Garry Ringrose is definitely out of the game, after receiving a confirmed concussion in the Second Test, so Bundee Aki will slot in at centre beside Robbie Henshaw. Peter O'Mahony has passed Head Injury Assessment 2 after failing HIA 1, on Saturday. He should be fully cleared after HIA 3.
6:2 or 5:3 split on the bench?
While the make-up of the Ireland team looks clear, and is a statement of intent from Farrell - these are my main men - some will be wondering about the replacement options.
Ryan Baird not getting a start in either the second- or back-row was an eyebrow-raiser from the Ireland coach. The Leinster forward made three appearances for Ireland, this season, but fell behind Kieran Treadwell as a bench option for the first two Tests.
With the Third Test effectively a series decider, and the All Blacks expected to pull a much better performance out of the bag, Farrell could be tempted to go for six forwards on his bench. Conor Murray has goal-kicking experience so could cover 9 and 10, with someone like Keith Earls covering the rest of the backline positions. That would accommodate the possible inclusion of both Treadwell and Baird.
We expect Farrell to go with a 5:3 split, though - Murray, Carbery and Earls as backline cover. If that is how the Ireland coach goes, it would mean Earls is the only matchday 23 change.
EXPECTED IRELAND TEAM FOR THIRD TEST
15. Hugo Keenan
14. Mack Hansen
13. Robbie Henshaw
12. Bundee Aki
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. Peter O'Mahony
7. Josh van der Flier
8. Caelan Doris
REPLACEMENTS: Rob Herring, Cian Healy, Finlay Bealham, Kieran Treadwell, Jack Conan, Conor Murray, Joey Carbery, Keith Earls.
Stream the biggest sporting moments with NOW, including all the Test match between Ireland and New Zealand, on Saturday July 16 [from 8:05am].
“Keith Earls ain’t finished yet.”
Darren Cave and Greg O'Shea talk about their past experiences training and playing with Keith Earls and think that the people who don’t rate him as a great player don’t know what they’re talking about.