Since the start of the season four bloggers, one representing each province, have taken turns selecting their ideal Irish matchday 23.
This week our Munster blogger Kate McEvoy gives her thoughts on what Joe should do next…
Click this link for her last selection and these for the latest from Connacht, Ulster & Leinster.
Well that was a tough auld weekend wasn't it? After an across the board failure to derail the chariot, Monday's Against the Head certainly made for tough watching. However, there are positives.
Although the elusive Grand Slam dream has once again evaporated, there are still two championships to play for in both the men's and the women's competition. Strong performances and narrow losses keep both squads firmly in contention to bring home the silverwear, particularly with Joe Schmidt's team currently still top of the table in a wide open tournament.
The next task at hand is hosting the Azzuri the weekend after next, so that's what I'm keeping in mind for this selection, along with relative weaknesses in the performance against the English. We'll have further updates on injuries etc throughout the coming days so options may change.
1. Cian Healy – I'm keeping the front row unit that started against the English intact so it's Church, and his fashion forward Williams sister style ankle supports in at loosehead, with the ever more explosive McGrath on the bench. The scrum is fast becoming a much more consistent weapon in the Irish arsenal with Healy ever improving under the new laws. I reckon he's due a try too.
- Rory Best – one of the sources of the most division in Saturday's post match analysis. Personally, I've been impressed with how he's attacked this tournament after a disappointing and uneven Lions tour which could have broken a lesser man, and his wayward throwing has levelled out. Although the throwing of his closest rival Sean Cronin has also reached a more consistent level, his inability to strike in the scrum, together with Best's leadership is holding him back from progressing beyond his impact sub role
- Mike Ross – I thought Ross played one of his most dynamic games in green, with great physicality and dare I even say, a few darting runs, around the park. His scrummaging seems to have come back to an even keel after a slow start to the season. Moore's definitely the coming man in this position but perhaps it was that knowledge that's acted as a spur to Ireland's resident tech whizz.
- Paul O'Connell (c)– A relatively quiet game for the big man by his high standards, his lineout face is still a work of art in itself. Particularly in those great slowmo close ups.
- Devin Toner– So my front five is unchanged, altho I am anticipating liberal use of the bench. I'm not in favour of underestimating Italy with a championship on the line. There's scope for development but I'm not pushing development for the sake of it. Also, there are considerable changes in my slection behind the front five so some stability there would be beneficial.
Regarding Dev, I'm now chosing to think of him as the big engine who could as he continues to impress with solid performances and surely change the minds of those who still claim he's not an international standard player.
- Iain Henderson – As it stands it looks like POM, Ireland's finest anthem singer, could well be fit to start as his hamstring injury isn't believed to be serious. However, as Schmidt eluded to earlier today, given the incredible physical toll placed oh his body, I'd consider resting him either way and would welcome an opportunity to see Henderson's power against the Italians, particularly given that was an element that was somewhat lacking for me at Twickenham
I've got Donnacha Ryan on the bench who I would love to see make a return to the national stage. He can also cover backrow as well as second row but if it came to that I would leave Henderson at 6 and have Ryan at lock.
- Tommy O'Donnell – Similarly I would posit Henry could benefit from an extra rest week and would see this as a good opportunity for O'Donnell to show what he can do. Again, no reflection on Henry's performances so far but I would see O'Donnell as needing more test experience and also providing a good ball carrying option.
- Jamie Heaslip – With the relative inexperience of his backrow colleagues, Ireland's most reliable machine retains his starting spot. After a patchy season as Ireland captain last year he very much put those demons to bed by stepping in to deputise for O'Connell for the Scotland game and the last half hour of the Welsh.
- Eoin Reddan – After coming through Leinster's scrappy but lucrative bonus point win in Wales last week with a try to his name, Eoin Reddan starts to keep the Leinster half back partnership intact. Murray drops to the bench.
- Ian Madigan – As with O'Mahony, it appears that Sexton's thumb injury is not serious, but again, he has all the hallmarks of a man who needs a rest. Although it could possibly be psychologically tough for Sexton to be dropped to the bench after one of his weaker performances, this for me is not that type of selection. I'm going with Madigan to start over Jackson as I'm not sure Schmidt trusts him to run a game, based on how slow he was to make the switch at Twickenham, and there are some lingering concerns over his kicking from the tee at this level. It's a risky call given I have not yet been overly impressed with Madigan this season but he's hungry to show what he can do. There's a slight hail Mary to this one but if I've horribly misjudged things, Sexton is on the bench to redeem himself.
- Simon Zebo – There's a couple of reasons for this. The main one is entirely selfish, I'm bloody tired of hearing the arguments raging over his non-selection. He's been tapping away on the try front with Munster, time to see if he can once again deliver in green. It should go some way towards settlign the debate one way or another. I also think there are some red herrings doign the rounds about his defense and workrate that I'm yet to see anyone back up with stats. Trimble has had a fine tournament, particularly his overall defense and rucking but Zebo's ability to create something from nothing could be the shot in the arm our slightly lacklustre attack needs
- Luke Marshall – I'd like to see Bamm-Bamm bring some of his hard running and line breaks to the cause, hopefully the go forward he can provide will be a good attacking platform
- Brian O'Driscoll – For my pre-tournament selection I suggested O'Driscoll shouldn't play every game. However given the backline shakeup here, I'm still going with all his vast experience to start against the Italians and am hoping to see an improvement in communication between himself and Marshall.
- Dave Kearney – Bowe is still not at 100% and is very short on game time and McFadden, who I personally would like to have seen on earlier against the English, is once again a victim of his versatility and is on the bench. Which is not to say, of course, that Kearney doesn't fully deserve his start.
- Rob Kearney – With a really well taken try to his name at Twickenham and no real competition to match him, Kearney's tenure at fullback continues
- Cian Healy
- Rory Best
- Mike Ross
- Paul O'Connell
- Devin Toner
- Iain Henderson
- Tommy O'Donnell
- Jamie Heaslip
- Eoin Reddan
- Ian Madigan
- Simon Zebo
- Luke Marshall
- Brian O'Driscoll
- Dave Kearney
- Rob Kearney
- Sean Cronin
- Marty Moore
- Jack McGrath
- Donnacha Ryan
- Jordi Murphy
- Conor Murray
- Johnny Sexton
- 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
NEXT WEEK WE’LL HEAR FROM OUR ULSTER BLOGGER LAURA JOHNSTON