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18th Jun 2018

Jacob Stockdale tipped for return and there could be a surprise on Ireland bench

Patrick McCarry

“I’m not saying we have to do it, but I do know we play Conor Murray too much.”

Ireland won their first Test match in Australia for 39 years, last weekend. They can win their first Test series in 39 years, this weekend, if they can repeat the dose in Sydney.

Joe Schmidt’s side may have been out-muscled and out-thought in Brisbane but they doled out a beating to the Wallabies at AAMI Park to square the series. Schmidt will go easy on his players this week, with contact kept to a minimum, but those asked to lace up again will have to go to the well one last time.

Former Ireland internationals Kevin McLaughlin and James Downey discussed possible changes for the final Test [from 32:00 below] on The Hard Yards, and there may be a surprise among the Ireland forwards on the bench.

Downey is advocating giving John Cooney or Kieran Marmion a start in the No.9 jersey for the Sydney Test as he believes Ireland are too reliant on the excellent Conor Murray.

McLaughlin insists Ireland should now be go all guns blazing to finish what they started in Melbourne and go with as many big-hitters as possible.

“It’s neither Cooney nor Marmion. I’d start Murray and I’d play him 80 minutes or whatever is required to win the Test Series… This is not a time to experiment.”

McLaughlin suspects that the AC [shoulder] injury sustained by Cian Healy in the Second Test may well keep him out of the decider. Other forwards may struggle to carry such a knock but McLaughlin feels the extra strains of scrummaging could see Healy miss out as the risk of aggravating the shoulder is higher.

That would see Jack McGrath come in at loose-head and some flexibility required on the bench. The only other props remaining in the squad, assuming Tadhg Furlong starts at No.3, are John Ryan and Andrew Porter. Handily enough, both men have loose-head experience so could deputise for McGrath.

Elsewhere, Downey and McLaughlin are agreed that there will be fewer changes this week than last week – possibly as few as two. Both men feel Jacob Stockdale is likely to return on the left wing and can see one possible tweak in the back row, with Iain Henderson, Jack Conan, Jordi Murphy and Tadhg Beirne all in reserve and ready to go.

“With Furlong, you’ve got to start him,” McLaughlin added. “Guys like Furlong and James Ryan are so crucial. I think you keep Ryan and Devin Toner together in the second row because they work so well together.”

Schmidt will name his team on Thursday and it will be interesting to see if those that picked up knocks on Saturday – Healy, Andrew Conway, Dan Leavy and Johnny Sexton – will make the starting XV.