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The odd feeling of putting on the green jersey is back within my sole. After a night screaming in front of the Foo Fighters in the RDS, it is a more serious time. Ireland plays the old enemy, I wish I was more mature to not mention that but I am not. England welcome (is that the right word) Ireland to Twickenham this Saturday.
This really is a game of 2 teams with 2 objectives and 2 hopeful outcomes. The reaction to team selection has been the expected negativity online, but it is not all doom and gloom for Ireland…… or is it?
Ireland arrives in London off the back of a slightly solid outing against Italy. A game that got oil back in the system, a win under the belt and a few new faces in the jersey which is what the aim of the game was. As we said that was a preseason friendly. Which is how all of these games should be viewed. Much like when a premiership football team comes over to Ireland in the summer to play LOI teams, this is the same, just in a better game.
A lot of front liners arrive back into the squad. Which leads to 2 questions. Firstly, is everyone fit and ready and is this why we have them starting? Or, more worryingly, are we letting ego take control when a process should be adhered to? Meaning that I would have expected the second Welsh match to be when we see this full squad take the field. With a smattering of them being introduced over the warm-up series. This is happening now, so what are the plusses and minuses of this selection.
The biggest strength is to get the players playing together again, getting them familiar with each other under pressure and against a top team. Getting their bodies used to combat is a plus too. They won’t be lacking in bumps and bruises ahead of the RWC. That was an issue Eddie O’Sullivan ran into years ago when he kept the team wrapped up ahead of the first game.
The worry is between the ears for Ireland. We know the team is top level, top skill and a top side in the world. The rankings (if you take notice of them) are so tight that Ireland can leapfrog Wales this weekend with a win. If Ireland take the field and get spanked by a fully ready England side, will this affect them? I understand that these are professionals but they are also humans that last England match took a long time to erase from the system, maybe it is still there. If Ireland is 2 tries down in 15 minutes, do they have the testicular fortitude to come back from that? If they do, then they will in the RWC.
And so we get to the team selection:
15. Rob Kearney 14. Jordan Larmour 13. Garry Ringrose 12. Bundee Aki 11. Jacob Stockdale 10. Ross Byrne 9. Conor Murray 8. CJ Stander 7. JVDF 6. Peter O’Mahony 5. Jean Kleyn 4. Iain Henderson 3. Tadgh Furlong 2. Rory Best 1. Cian Healy
I think this is a team built for the upset. A lot of caps around the pitch and 2 obvious fresh faces to jump into the deep end surrounded by that experience. Kleyn gets another shot beside a reinvigorated Henderson. Kleyn did a lot of donkey work in game 1, now is the time to step up and be his enforcer best. Henderson won’t be seen lacking in the scrap department either. The front row is business as usual with Cronin ready to be unleashed at the hour mark. The back row is interesting, Stander in at 8, JVDF at 7 and POM at 6. A very strong mix of skills here, Stander will carry, JVDF has massive and surprising speed with POM being an absolute warrior. This could be the strongest mix of experience and speed we have ever had in the back row. Only question there is Conan.
So we move to the big decision from Joe. Ross Byrne starts in the 10 jersey with Murray beside him. A great call. Carty came on and did some great work against the Italians, continuing the great work with the boot Carbery started. He did himself no harm in that game and with the injury to Carbery he may get a plane ticket. Byrne is the man who has stepped up in the last 18 months, big pressure games, big pressure kicks and he has proved that he has the head for the big games. Murray also has to get back into the swing of things after a ropey (by his huge standards) season last year with injury and form. Not a bad place to be, when a world class player feels he has something to prove.
This Ireland team is primed for the upset.
Eddie Jones has picked his RWC squad already, these lads know they are already on the plane, will this lead to the usual English arrogance creeping in? They know they are a different team if Billy V is shut down, do they have another game plan? Have Ireland added a few tricks during their closed door training in Portugal?
Has Ireland put their ego ahead of the process or has King Joe gotten the team ready to rumble ahead of schedule.
This will be some game. It is hard to see England losing, but the way to beat them is obvious.
Can Ireland do it?
Is Feidir Linn!
@nkeegan on twitter and www.thecouchpunditireland.com for more.
Keego (@nkeegan): Blogger, professional wrestler, sometime attempted rugby player (@TheThirsty3rds), professional procrastinator and attempted musician with a fondness for long walks on the bar, tea and the couch. Opinionated Leinster fan and constant gardener.
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