No pressure on our Munster blogger Kate McEvoy picking her Irish team this week…just one to win a Grand Slam please! Simples!
Click this link for her last selection and these for the latest from Leinster, Connacht & Ulster.
Remember…the general rule is to select a team based on current fitness for a test match to be played the following weekend. The contributors are allowed some leeway however, since it’s all to get debate going. Once it’s friendly debate of course! JLP
It's a funny fixture to open with in a lot of ways. Despite our loss against the doughty Scots in Murrayfield last year, this would be viewed as one of our more winnable encounters, at home against a team ranked below us, who have not exactly set any competition alight at club level so far this season. So you could view it as a time to give some less experienced players playing time.
On the other, it's Schmidt's first ever 6 Nations game, it's in front of a home crowd hungry to build on the All-Blacks performance with some thus far elusive consistency and it would be a shame to cut a title challenge of an the ankles on the opening weekend. So, I've attempted to combine youth with experience for the start of our title challenge. At least for this selection I have a definite team and up to date injury list to work off so hopefully my third pick for Harpin On Rugby will be the charm!
- Cian Healy – Both Ireland and Leinster were lesser teams without Church on the pitch. Given we are shorn of our best ball-carrying option with Sean O'Brien missing for the tournament, the dynamic prop is key to a successful Ireland performance. He also appears to be thriving under the new scrum laws so he combines a steady set piece with an all action display around the park. Always good for a cheeky anytime try scorer bet, Healy is the number 1 choice for the number 1 jersey, with his Leinster colleague Jack McGrath claiming the bench spot.
- Rory Best – After leading the charge for a strong Ulster performance which bested the Tigers in their Welford Road den, Rory Best starts with Sean Cronin on the bench. Although Cronin's darts have improved this season, he still has trouble striking the ball even in a dominant scrum, which has become even more key with the aforementioned changes to the scrum. Cronin is also a great impact sub to spring from the bench.
- Marty Moore – With the experience of Best and Healy at his side, combined with the fact he's arguably outplaying the veteran Ross this season, I've plumping for Moore to start at tighthead, with Ross's experience available to draw on to steady the ship or close out the game as required.
- Paul O'Connell (c) – The right man at the right time for the role of captaincy and in a fine purple patch of form with a renewed commitment to Irish rugby until 2016. After an impressive all-action display for the Wolfhounds, Ulster's Iain Henderson takes his place on the bench as second row cover with added backrow depth. His ferocious tackle technique and rucking efforts could certainly bring the hurt to the Scots in the second half.
- Dan Tuohy – Dan has been depreciating about his chances at more caps this spring but he makes my starting squad ahead of McCarthy and Toner, even if Schmidt may not agree. The beauty of this exercise is it's not about trying to second guess the official squad, it's getting to chose mine. So long the nearly man, and well aware of the threat of Henderson to his international ambitions, his ferocity would be an immense boon.
- Peter O'Mahony – Led by example for Munster against Gloucester and crossed the whitewash, his wiley footballing brain is a great addition to the squad.
- Chris Henry – An incredible tackle count of 23 for his last Ulster outing coupled with his breakdown skills as Ireland's leading traditional openside earns him a place in the starting line up, despite the host of young jacklers snapping at his heels. Prominent in that pack is Tommy O'Donnell, who I've gone with on the bench. The backrow cover was the hardest position in this selection to nail down as we are blessed with options in this area. There is little to chose from O'Donnell's Wolfhounds cohorts Ruddock, Copeland and Murphy in the mix as well as Dougall, Coughlan and McLaughlin to name just a few at provincial level. However given Henderson also offers backrow options I've gone for O'Donnell on the bench for more specialist cover.
- Jamie Heaslip – The dog and pony show is over and Heaslip stays. He has done well to get a three year central contact and, from what I understand, an excellent remuneration package, Both seem to be earning him heaps of abuse, which I do find baffling. He's the prominent 8 in the country. It will be interesting to see how he responds to the challenge of Murphy, Copeland et all over the coming months.
- Conor Murray – Murray is the best scrum half in the country and was an easy enough pick to start. Again the more difficult decision was who provides his cover, but that decision was made by the recent cull in the squad. I'm still keen to see Marmion capped in this tournament but felt he wavered under pressure during his Wolfhounds cameo, perhaps contributing to him being dropped. Despite a man of the match display from Boss he's gone too so it's Eoin Reddan on the bench.
- Jonny Sexton – After playing his best game in some time to steer Racing to victory over Toulouse, Sexton has by all accounts suffered no ill effects from the cheap shot that led to him being subbed off before the game's conclusion. Irish rugby's most high profile export is in fine fettle to steer the ship. Paddy Jackson has had an extremely progressive season for Ulster, as his game management continues to improve. He leads the pack of young outhalfs in the country and take the spot on the bench over the more versatile but still inconsistent Madigan.
- Luke Fitzgerald – Wings are also in decent supply leading into the Six Nations. I do think the Simon Zebo effect sometimes means the Cork man receives more of the spotlight than he deserves, most recently at the expense of Johne Murphy in Munster's last pool game. However there's no denying he's an exciting player who can create an attacking threat out of nothing. So I'm surprised at him being cut from the squad, and in an ideal world I'd have him on the wing with Fitzgerald's versatility on the bench. I would also like to see more of Fitzgerald at centre as his autumn cameo there was really quite intriguing. However Fitzgerald is certainly the in-form wing in the country, and was the brightest spot in Leinster's uneven victory over the Ospreys. However I wouldn't be surprised to see Zebo return to the squad before the tournament's end.
- Luke Marshall – I'm slightly worried that Gordon D'Arcy's beard is going to come and get me but the midfield torch is in transition and that needs to continue.
- Brian O'Driscoll – His form has not been of his uniquely high standard this season (heresy I know) but I would look to start O'Driscoll in this fixture, albeit not for every game in this transitional tournament.
- Dave Kearney – With Bowe still not at full fitness, for me Kearney's form and endeavour has him starting ahead of Gilroy, McFadden and Trimble et al. I would go for McFadden on the bench. He was the standout back for me in the opening half against the Saxons and his versatility is a good foil to Paddy Jackson's lack thereof.
- Rob Kearney – Still the locked-on started at full back for me. As it stands, the need for Payne at 13 upon Irish qualification seems to be the greatest but fullback is undoubtedly his better position. He seems to be the greatest challenge to Kearney's continuing reign in Ireland's backfield as it seems unlikely Jones will unseat him in the meantime, barring injury.
- Cian Healy
- Rory Best
- Marty Moore
- Paul O'Connell
- Dan Tuohy
- Peter O'Mahony
- Chris Henry
- Jamie Heaslip
- Conor Murray
- Jonny Sexton
- Luke Fitzgerald
- Luke Marshall
- Brian O'Driscoll
- Dave Kearney
- Rob Kearney
- Sean Cronin
- Mike Ross
- Jack McGrath
- Iain Henderson
- Tommy O'Donnell
- Eoin Reddan
- Paddy Jackson
- Fergus McFadden
Kate McEvoy : Munster fan in a sea of Leinster blue. Raised on a strict diet of Bective Rangers. Earliest childhood memory is stud marks in the muck. Former hooker for a father & a mother with an eye for a forward pass bordering on freakish . Best rugby memory, Toulouse main square, May 24, 2008. Epitaph will read “Knew a lot about rugby for a girl.” Can be found tweeting optimistically at @ImKateMc