Peter Stringer picks his Ireland team to play England
Former Ireland scrum-half Peter Stringer has picked Leinster flanker Josh van der Flier to start ahead of club teammate Sean O'Brien for Ireland's Six Nations opener against England next weekend.
Ireland will kick off their Six Nations defence against the English at Lansdowne Road with Joe Schmidt's side looking to win their third consecutive championship following last year's Grand Slam win.
Ireland are largely a settled team under Joe Schmidt but Stringer feels that van der Flier may have done enough to edge out O'Brien who was excellent for Leinster in his return from injury against Wasps earlier this month.
"Took your dancing shoes off and your coaching hat on!"@stringer9 chooses his starting fifteen for Ireland to take on England next week.
What are your thoughts?
What about the omission of Bundee Aki?
Live on eir sport 1 now! pic.twitter.com/r3YPtRnBVo
— eir Sport (@eirSport) January 26, 2019
"I've gone with a strong front-row and [Cian] Healy, [Rory] Best and [Tadhg] Furlong really pick themselves," Stringer said on eir Sport.
"I think with the injuries in the second-row to [Iain] Henderson and [Tadhg] Beirne you're looking at [James] Ryan and [Devin] Toner for me. Toner dominating that line-out.
"The back-row really picks itself. Question mark over van der Flier, you've Sean O'Brien as well. You will need that go forward ball, you will need to get over the gainline and Seanie is obviously that guy but van der Flier gets off the line so well and his physicality and his workrate is incredible. Stander at eight picks himself for me.
"Half-backs will control the game. Huge emphasis on how these guys control and dictate how the game goes. Making sure Sexton is fully fit and Murray as well has played really well after coming back off a long lay off.
"12 and 13... 12 again with [Robbie] Henshaw and Bundee [Aki].... you could have had either one in there... flip of a coin. Bundee has always really, really impressed and Joe [Schmidt] trusts him as well.
"I know Henshaw has been out for a while but I just think what he brings to the game is something special. He attracts defenders, he can offload the ball, he can unlock defences, for me when he's on his game, he's an incredible 12.
"We know what Rob Kearney can do and Joe knows what he can do under that high ball, covering that backfield and with [Owen] Farrell dictating with how things are going to go, putting balls in behind, you need someone to be able to read the game well and you have no one else in that position that has been able to do it over the years."
The back-row is arguably the area where Ireland have the most depth with Sean O'Brien, CJ Stander, Peter O'Mahony, Dan Leavy, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan, Rhys Ruddock and Jordi Murphy all pushing for places.
O'Mahony, Stander and O'Brien have generally served as head coach Joe Schmidt's first-choice trio and for two-time British & Irish Lion David Wallace it remains Ireland's strongest grouping.
"Peter O'Mahony is in the form of his life, he has to be in the team, CJ Stander is playing exceptionally well as well and they're all feeding off that energy," Wallace told SportsJOE earlier this month.
"I look at CJ's games lately and they're all pushing each other. There's so much talent in the country that they have to play their best game each time they put on their provincial jersey. I think CJ has to be there and then look for me Sean O'Brien still has to be in the team when he's fully fit. I think the problem is getting him game time and getting him fit."Josh van der Flier for me is probably there and Dan Leavy has been excellent but he's not a seven as such, he does a lot of good things, but Josh plays a little bit looser."He's able to get around the park and has a really high workrate, not that Dan doesn't, he provides more of the attritional stuff but he's probably more of a six than a seven. For me Seanie is still the guy when he's fit. If not I'd have Josh and then Dan."