Ireland kick-off their Six Nations campaign against Scotland at the Aviva Stadium in six weeks’ time. Joe Schmidt’s first championship at the helm begins with two home games [Wales are next up] so a winning start could set Ireland up for a tilt at our first title since 2009.
We asked three of our rugby writers to give us their starting XV’s to face the Scots on 2 February. Leinster will provide an update on Sean O’Brien’s injured shoulder later today but, for now, we are assuming the Tullow Tank will be fit to start against the Scots.
R Kearney; Bowe, O’Driscoll, L Marshall, Gilroy; Sexton, Murray; Healy, Cronin, Ross; Ryan, O’Connell; O’Mahony, O’Brien, Heaslip.
Injuries to key players, such as Tommy Bowe and Rory Best, make this a difficult team to nail down but I feel the winger will get more game time in while the hooker will return later in the campaign. My leftfield choice comes in the form of Craig Gilroy but he has the ability and temperament to deliver on the big occasion.
Gordon D’Arcy has served Ireland well but it is time to give Luke Marshall a prolonged run in midfield. Donnacha Ryan will add some grunt and lineout leadership while the remainder of the team picks itself. this leaves serious attacking threats — Eoin Reddan, Keith Earls, Dave Kearney and Paddy Jackson, who should nip in ahead of Ian Madigan — on the bench.
R Kearney; D Kearney, BOD, L Marshall, Zebo; Sexton, Murray; Healy, Best, Ross; Ryan, O’Connell; O’Mahony, O’Brien, Heaslip.
Replacements: Cronin, McGrath, Fitzpatrick, Toner, Henderson, Marmion, Jackson, Bowe.
I’ve had to make harsh calls on Devin Toner and D’Arcy here. Both had the game of their lives against New Zealand, but I’ve opted to bring Marshall and Ryan back into the fold.
Luke Marshall in action against Australia. INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Bowe and Best will be both lacking a bit of match fitness by the time the Six Nations rolls around. I’ve given the hooker the benefit of the doubt, but for me Dave Kearney will be the best man for the job… and then you’ve the added bonus of Try-time Tommy in the final quarter.
There’s no harm in mixing the starting XV about; we shouldn’t attach a stigma to being dropped.
R Kearney; Earls, O’Driscoll, Marshall, Bowe; Sexton, Murray; Healy, Cronin, Ross; Ryan, O’Connell; O’Mahony, O’Brien, Heaslip.
From where I’m sitting, that’s the strongest team Ireland will be able to select. Best will be recovering his fitness having come back from that fractured arm, so Sean Cronin gets the nod to start at hooker.
Donnacha Ryan gets the starting nod from our three writers. INPHO/James Crombie
Bowe’s remarkably quick recovery rate will allow him to take a place on the wing. Marshall’s time has come in the 12 shirt, in my opinion. D’Arcy had had a good season, but the Ulster man is the future. Every other position picks itself.
– Who would you pick in the Ireland XV to face Scotland?