Ultan Dillane and three other Irish players with a lot to prove against Fiji 4 years ago

Ultan Dillane and three other Irish players with a lot to prove against Fiji

Joe Schmidt will want every single Ireland player shooting their hand up to be selected against Argentina but some men have a better chance than others.

"There's no one who has ever walked into an Ireland jersey before."


Peter O'Mahony knows the score, and he will be watching his Ireland teammates very closely this weekend when they take on Fiji at the Aviva Stadium. His is one of the Ireland jerseys that is being hotly contested this November.

Looking at the Ireland team that dismantled South Africa 38-3, there are several players that are guaranteed to start if fit. Say what they might about the jersey going back on the hook after games but 10 players are all but certain to start against Argentina on November 25 - Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, Sean O'Brien, CJ Stander, Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton, Jacob Stockdale, Robbie Henshaw and Andrew Conway and Rob Kearney.

That leaves loosehead, blindside, inside centre and one second row slot up for grabs. Cian Healy, O'Mahony, Bundee Aki and Devin Toner all had decent outings against the Springboks but you would not call them positional locks. Not yet anyway.

Ultan Dillane has a big opportunity to impress against the Fijians. He would have been smarting to miss out on the South African game but he gets an immediate chance to show he is good enough to be a long-term option in Ireland's second row.


Speaking with Dillane earlier this season, he stressed that form for Connacht would hopefully translate into national team selection. Saying that, he was keen to get back some of that bark and bite back into his game. He said:

"On the carrying front, I love that. I love it on both sides of the ball. You're more susceptible to injury in the tackle, and obviously I am with my shoulder history, but I want to be as physical in defence as I am in attack. It's nearly safer to just make your tackles rather than just trying to smash people.

"It's about always improving but I think I can get back to the way... I think I used to tackle with more physicality a season or two ago and I want that back."

The Dillane we would dearly love to see in action against Fiji is the man that came on at Soldier Field and climbed into the All Blacks, the Dillane that made that searing line break off the bench against England on his Test debut and who bounced Kearney brothers like skittles in the Guinness PRO12 final.


How Jack McGrath, Rhys Ruddock and centres Stuart McCloskey and Chris Farrell get on will be fascinating.

The big shock of Ireland's team announcement for the South Africa encounter was the presence of Healy in the front row. Judged on form this season, however, perhaps it was more of a tremor than a seismic crockery-rocker.

McGrath lost out on Test selection to Mako Vunipola on the Lions Tour, missed some training sessions with hip issues and is now back scrapping against an in-form Healy [carrying hard below]. Personally, it must be a pain but that should benefit Ireland over the coming months.


Toner was dropped for the final game of the Six Nations, against England, and has been in steady if not spectacular form with Leinster this season. He was very good against the Boks but is no longer the guaranteed starter of the first few years of Joe Schmidt's tenure.

In midfield, Aki will probably get another run at 12 but such is the versatility and work-rate of Robbie Henshaw that either McCloskey or Farrell could push for a start against Los Pumas by shooting the metaphorical lights out against Fiji.

That leaves the No.6 jersey and Ruddock, who scored a try off the bench last week, could yet grasp it if he continues his bullish, confident form of 2017 and dominates the Fijians. O'Mahony was good last week but the Leinster flanker made the sort of bench impact that Schmidt would have keenly noted.

Some nice sub-plots in a game against a Fiji side that could climb to a world ranking high of 8th if they beat Ireland for the first time in their history.