The Ireland XV we would start against Italy 4 weeks ago

The Ireland XV we would start against Italy

How times have changed.

Back in March, after the 2020 Guinness Six Nations game between Ireland and Italy was postponed, we looked ahead to their then-scheduled game against France, in Paris.

Six months on and so much has changed that to put all the pieces of those crazy March and April weeks together. Back then, Six Nations officials were still going to press on with matches. England's name against Italy was first to go, followed by Ireland's match against Les Bleus.

During what was a hectic, news-crammed week, the game between Wales and Scotland was still happening, all the way up to the captain's runs just 24 hours before the game. Sense thankfully prevailed.

And so the shutters came down on the 2019/20 season, not to be lifted, in Europe at least, until August. Schedules were tightened and some fixtures sacrificed. Players moved on to new clubs while others retired. The Top 14 scrubbed their season and moved on to 2020/21 without a declared winner. Southern Kings did not return and they may never.

Professional rugby kicked off again in late August and while Leinster wrapped up the Guinness PRO14, the Premiership and Champions Cup competitions are ongoing. Test rugby will be back next month, with the Six Nations being concluded before we roll into an eight-team Autumn Nations tournament that will generate much-needed revenue for the various teetering unions.

The Champions Cup quarter final eliminations of Leinster and Ulster, last weekend, brought down the curtain on the provinces' 2019/20. There is still the matter of the Six Nations being closed out and Ireland are in with a shout but will need a lot to go in their favour.

Six months on from their last scheduled game, it is interesting to look back on the team we wanted Andy Farrell to select for that game against France. Before we dive into who we would pick to face Italy, here is that Ireland XV:

Our Ireland team to face France (March 2020 selection)

15. Jordan Larmour
14. Andrew Conway
13. Robbie Henshaw
12. Bundee Aki
11. Jacob Stockdale
10. Johnny Sexton
9. John Cooney

1. Dave Kilcoyne
2. Rob Herring
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. James Ryan
5. Iain Henderson
6. CJ Stander
7. Josh van der Flier
8. Caelan Doris

Subs: Ronan Kelleher, Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter, Devin Toner, Peter O'Mahony, Conor Murray, Ross Byrne, Keith Earls.

With Italy the first game up, ahead of that visit to Paris, Farrell will have to decide whether he gives squad players a chance or goes hell for leather with his two strongest XVs. One suspects that he will mix and match but select 11 or 12 players to start both games.

Andy Farrell

The team would select to start against Italy (below) on October 24 will differ somewhat from what we expect Farrell to go with. First off, Leinster and Ireland seem intent on making Jordan Larmour the starting fullback for the next three to four years.

To us, we would go Andrew Conway in the 15 jersey and move Larmour to the right wing. Along with Keith Earls, that back three has a nicer look, to us. Jacob Stockdale - going through a lengthy rough patch - is on our replacements bench as he can cover across the backline and may revel coming in when the game is broken up. Remember, too, that James Lowe will be eligible to play the Autumn Nations games.

At scrumhalf, John Cooney deserves the chance he had earned back in March - because the pandemic forced the season shutdown - and because there is no outstanding candidate for the role, at present. Kieran Marmion looked decent for Connacht while Luke McGrath's form is patchy. A left-field option is the now eligible Jamison Gibson Park.

Our pack is crammed full of Leinster players and they are all there on merit. Iain Henderson and James Ryan is still a second row combination worth preserving with but Ryan Baird may yet get his chance. He looked good coming off the bench and taking the fight to Saracens. At hooker, despite lineout issues with Leinster than need fixing, Ronan Kelleher should do well against the Azzurri.

CJ Stander may yet get a spot in the back row but Andy Farrell will have not how Leinster neutralised him in the PRO14 semi-final. Jack Carty is our outhalf pick ahead of Ross Byrne, but don't discount Ian Madigan.

Our Ireland team to face Italy

15. Andrew Conway
14. Jordan Larmour
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Bundee Aki
11. Keith Earls
10. Johnny Sexton
9. John Cooney

1. Cian Healy
2. Ronan Kelleher
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. James Ryan
5. Iain Henderson
6. Caelan Doris
7. Josh van der Flier
8. Jack Conan

Subs: Rob Herring, Ed Byrne, Andrew Porter, Ryan Baird, CJ Stander, Conor Murray, Jack Carty, Jacob Stockdale.

Irish hopefuls will get a couple of Guinness PRO14 games to stake their claims, in October, before Farrell spirits the best of the best away from their provinces until mid December.