Since the start of the season four bloggers, one representing each province, have taken turns selecting their ideal Irish matchday 23 for a test match to take place the following weekend (so current injury status must be taken into account).
This week it’s the turn of Connachtman to look ahead for the Six Nations champions.
Click this link for his last selection and these for the latest from Munster, Leinster & Ulster.
Only two more weekends remain of the greatest Rugby competition on the planet (IMHO!) and unfortunately Irish interest has been whittled down to the lowest denominator.
A fine Ulster team were dealt a cruel hand and could find the path back to the top of the European game a good deal harder next season with the departure of Court, Afoa and Muller. To me the red card was a freak occurrence, but dangerous play none the less. In any event, it's heartbreaking for the Ulster boys, I was really hoping it was their year.
Leinster always had the hardest draw and turned up with a gameplan designed to weather the initial storm in the first half, and it could've worked too, had they been able to up the gears in the second half. As it was they were blown away and shown to be far too one-dimensional in attack with Gopperth at Fly Half. I'm sure many a head was scratched at the late involvement of Ian Madigan. Besides this I felt Eoin Reddan should've been called ashore earlier as he looked well-worn from continual Toulon harassment at the coalface. Joe Schmidt's tactical nous was sorely lacking in more than one aspect of the game.
Munster were at their breathtaking best and look a serious machine moving forward. Whether or not they can deal with what awaits them in the South of France is another matter. This Munster pack has found an edge that has been absent in recent years, but there's no denying the lack of experience when you compare them to Leinster and Ulster. Leinster may have been an outside chance of getting into the semi's, but Ulster were the best bet for an Irish Heineken Cup win in my opinion, and from that point of view it's disappointing. I hope that goes some way towards explaining my selection! Nonetheless, come on Munster!
My Ireland XV to play this weekend
Loosehead Prop: Cian Healy
Was close to his best in a losing performance. Jack McGrath is still an able deputy and holding off Dave Kilcoyne's challenge
Hooker: Sean Cronin
Starting Sean this week as he's served his time on the bench well this season for Ireland. Behind him is Richardt Strauss who for me is ahead of Damian Varley despite the latter having a fine game in Thomond
Tighthead Prop: Mike Ross
Will not be moved from this position this season while I have anything to say about it. Marty Moore keeps his bench spot.
Second Row: Devin Toner and Paul O'Connell
Toner was defensively superb in the first half in Toulon and Paulie chipped in with a rare try. I thought Mike McCarthy had a good showing and so too did Dan Tuohy. Saying that I'm giving the bench spot to Iain Henderson for versatility.
Back Row: Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry and Jamie Heaslip
I just can't resist picking Ferris for Ireland for the first time in years, I don't care what his form is like. He tackles like a wild animal and runs like a back. He basically defies nature every time he takes to the Rugby pitch. He's in!
Chris Henry holds off Tommy O'Donnell but the young Munster Tyro is good enough for a bench spot ahead of Jordi Murphy for me. Jamie stays, end of.
Scrum Half: Conor Murray
Playing great stuff in Red as in Green. Reddan stays put on the bench. A hard day at the office for him but still having a good season.
Fly Half: Jonny Sexton
This one is a no-brainer. I'm backing him up with Paddy Jackson who for me should always be on the bench regardless of Madigan's versatility. Paddy is playing great stuff with Ulster this season.
Centre: Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll
It's getting hard to justify all the Blue in this Ireland selection when you consider all the missed tackles we saw on Sunday, but these guys will not be moved in fairness.
Back Three: Dave Kearney, Tommy Bowe and Rob Kearney
I'm taking it that Trimble has concussion and making my job slightly easier here. The Kearney brothers are in on recent form and their first half performance was a suitably precise execution of the gameplan for Leinster. Tommy Bowe looked good too and holds off Fergus McFadden who gets the bench spot based on versatility and holds off Simon 'hot-stuff-but-still-working-on-things-for-Joe' Zebo for the twenty-three jersey.
1: Cian Healy
2: Sean Cronin
3: Mike Ross
4: Devin Toner
5:Paul O'Connell (c)
6: Stephen Ferris
7: Chris Henry
8: Jamie Heaslip
9: Conor Murray
10: Jonny Sexton
11: Dave Kearney
12: Gordon D'Arcy
13: Brian O'Driscoll
14: Tommy Bowe
15: Rob Kearney
16: Richardt Strauss
17: Jack McGrath
18: Martin Moore
19: Iain Henderson
20: Tommy O'Donnell
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…OUR LEINSTER BLOGGER IAIN O’CONNOR, HOPEFULLY HAVING RECOVERED FROM THE TRAUMA OF TOULON, OFFERS US HIS LATEST SELECTION.