Since the start of the season four bloggers, one representing each province, have taken turns selecting their ideal Irish matchday 23.
This week it falls to Connachtman to select BOD for the last time…
Click this link for his last selection and these for the latest from Ulster, Munster & Leinster.
Another great day for Irish Rugby, though one with a fair degree of sadness. There were a fair few emotional faces as I glanced around the bar towards the end of the game, and even my American friends seemed to understand the gravitas of the moment when I explained it to them. [My explanation went something along the lines of, 'if there was a vote tomorrow he'd be crowned King and that attractive lady in the crowd who he's married to would be Queen.']
Besides all that, it was a great performance. Sometimes these games can seem a little empty when they come with the caveat that 'the Italian performance was somewhat lacking', and 'you can't learn anything from a game like that', but I actually thought the Italians played quite well, and the Irish team were just too much for them.
There were a few missed tackles in that first half, and I'm pretty sure Joe and Les will be highlighting that during the week, but other than that the gameplan was executed magnificently. I was the 'selector' after that superb performance against Wales and so it falls to me once again to simply re-select a winning side, but I'm pretty sure that's one of those 'good problems' I've heard people talk about.
When Declan Kidney was supremo it seemed second nature to question and argue every other decision he made, and it can be a strange predicament for the opinionated Rugby-mad quasi-journalist keyboard-warrior to defer to the superior knowledge of a good coach... but that is exactly what I shall do! I'm going to pick the team I think Joe will pick! And if he happens to select anyone different... well, I'll just know I was wrong! And I won't mind admitting it, even from the safety of my laptop, and in my underwear. Fair play Joe...
Ireland Team to DO IT FOR BOD'S SAKE!
Loosehead Prop: Cian Healy
Healy carried extremely well on Saturday, and by all accounts he should be fighting fit and we'll need him at the weekend, even if McGrath is primed and ready to go in his stead!
Hooker: Rory Best
Besty has been superb all Championship and he's a shoe-in here. His quiet, manful leadership and unfailing accuracy and workrate is now a cornerstone of this side.
Nugget will continue on the bench after getting a deserved first try for Ireland at the weekend. Will probably come on at Hooker and not Outside Centre though.
Tighthead Prop: Mike Ross
I think Rossy has been quietly magnificent this season! He may have looked shagged at the tail-end of last season but he's playing with a focus and a consistency which is astounding when you remember he spent his formative years in the professional wilderness! He is clearly enjoying himself and enjoying playing under a coach who trusts him. I couldn't be happier for him!
Like every other replacement in this Six Nations, Marty Moore has looked comfortable and assured and is putting in bit-parts that speak to a satisfaction throughout the larger squad. He's knocking on the door but he seems to be happy in his work.
Second Row: Devin Toner and Paul O'Connell
The dream second row partnership at the back end of the golden generation, who would have thought it?! Big Dev is playing a blinder and deserves all the plaudits coming his way. The praise for the big man has been so cautious and disbelieving that it has jumped straight past the hype stage and settled right onto the level of totally justified. What a great story! Paulie is crucial to us seeing this championship out, let's hope he has at least one great eighty-minute performance left in him!
I believe Joe will stick with Iain Henderson as his lock replacement given his versatility and his clear integration into the group this year. It's easy to forget that this has been one of the least injury stricken squads in years [probably since '09] and Hendo is a crucial part of that group mentality. He's also a damn good impact sub, wherever he comes on!
Back Row: Peter O'Mahony, Chris Henry and Jamie Heaslip
It looks like O'Mahony will be back for another badly sung anthem and, here's hoping, another inspirational performance. It's a tested unit at this stage and the balance has been really great from the three lads. Henry has taken his chance extremely well and shown he can recreate what he does for Ulster in the green of Ireland. Jamie has once again shown his chameleon like ability to fulfil the roll that is required from him in the back row, and in the greater team as a whole, and has enjoyed carrying the ball for Ireland once again.
Despite some fine form from Rhys Ruddock I believe Joe will go with Jordi Murphy on the bench on Saturday. I have to admit, this is the one area of the team I am unsure about, and I have a feeling Murphy will be kept very much in reserve right until the end. I rate the guy pretty highly, but he's untested at this level, and if it's a close one at the death he may not be risked unless he is needed.
Scrum Half: Conor Murray
After Eoin Reddan's superb performance this could be seen as an area of debate for Ireland, but I think Joe will select the more physical Murray for this one. Physicality aside, Murray is actually more consistent these days. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of Reddan and always have been, but the guy is known to have his off days, and they can be pretty woeful when they come. Add to this Reddan's ability to lift the tempo off the bench and it becomes a bit of a no-brainer for me.
Fly Half: Jonny Sexton
Will be 'at home' in Paris [get it?] and a sure starter, but Paddy Jackson may be called into action earlier than perhaps we at home may like. Expect this one to be physical, and expect Jonny to have to make a few hard tackles in the midfield.
Centres: Gordon D'Arcy and King Brian O'Driscoll
One last tango in Paris for the el dude brothers. It's seems fitting that he finish his career here after announcing himself to the Rugby world so emphatically all those years ago. I should add that that is one of my earliest Rugby memories and that I am indeed one of those Rugby fans who has been a Rugby fan for the entirety of Brian O'Driscoll's career, in fact for approximately just that length of time! Regardless of the result this weekend I believe I shall cry, and I don't think I'll be alone in that regard...
Back Three: Dave Kearney, Andrew Trimble and Rob Kearney
This unit of the team is almost the biggest success story of the Championship! Two unheralded wingers holding off flashier competition, seemingly one of many tactical masterstrokes from Herr Schmidt, a point now truly driven home by the decision to omit Tommy Bowe from the training squad for Paris. [I can't help but wonder what Warren Gatland would have done in the same circumstance?] Joe has faith in this group, and they have rewarded him throughout. This may be the most 'boring' triumvirate available for selection, but it sure can do those basics well! I for one will be happy to see Andrew Trimble collect his medal if we do win. He's been on the fringe for most of his career, and had his fair share of detractors, but he's never stopped working, nor asked for anything more than fair treatment. He is just one of many players in this team who is being trusted by this coach, and who is rewarding him in kind. Good on him.
Fergus McFadden is the quintessential squadman and will again support manfully from the bench. He's a fit and committed professional who's also great craic. He'll never complain about holding a tackle bag, and will always play well no matter the player you ask him to replace.
Ireland Team as selected by best buddies Joe Schmidt and Connachtman
1: Cian Healy
2: Rory Best
3: Mike Ross
4: Devin Toner
5: Paul O'Connell
6: Peter O'Mahony
7: Chris Henry
8: Jamie Heaslip
9: Conor Murray
10: Jonny Sexton
11: Dave Kearney
12: Gordon D'Arcy
13: Brian O'Driscoll
14: Andrew Trimble
15: Rob Kearney
16: Sean Cronin
17: Jack McGrath
18: Marty Moore
19: Iain Henderson
20: Jordi Murphy
21: Eoin Reddan
22: Paddy Jackson
23: Fergus McFadden
Connachtman [@connachtman87] - sometime blogger, long time reader, avid supporter of Connacht rugby against all odds and in any weather.
NEXT WEEK ON LET THE SCHMIDT HIT THE FAN…it’s up to our Leinster blogger to select the first Ireland 23 of the post-BOD era.