Rugby

The Irish Six Nations Team We Want To See For The Opening France Game

The Irish Six Nations Team We Want To See For The Opening France Game

In a nation as small as Ireland with a rugby scope as limited as it is, it is almost inevitable that narratives repeat themselves. Last year we approached the Six Nations with both Munster and Leinster qualified from the European Cup, a successful November series and a plethora of exciting young talent emerging, sound familiar?

It all came crashing down when Ireland lost their opener against Scotland and once more we were forced to confront our glaring reliance on key individuals. Johnny Sexton didn't start and after an hour we were without Sean O'Brien, Iain Henderson and Jack McGrath.

However, in a peculiar twist, the repetition is a blessing. It implies the provinces have built or improved on their form from last year, that Ireland once again has momentum and that there is a new host of youngsters to build on those integrated last year.

The squad currently training in Spain is arguably the strongest Schmidt has had. With that in mind, there are several satisfactory candidates more than capable for key positions. The opener against France is just two weeks away.

 15. Rob Kearney 

At one stage the writing seemed to be etched on the wall for Kearney, yet his form for Leinster means he is a certainty for the starting 15. Schmidt values his key assets; certainty under the high ball, defensive reads and communication. Andrew Conway is a more than capable back-up who has impressed for Ireland in recent times.

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14. Jordan Larmour 

There is every chance Schmidt opts for Jacob Stockdale, who already has four caps and was the stand-out player during the Autumn Internationals. Alternatively, Conway could easily slot in here. It is highly unlikely that Schmidt opts for a debut against France but Larmour has been exceptional for Leinster on both sides of the ball and Stockdale's defensive performance against Leinster will be cause for concern. Larmour was more than a match last week against the battering ram that is Nadolo.

13. Robbie Henshaw 

Does just about everything a centre can do. No doubt over this call.

12. Bundee Aki 

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Gary Ringrose's continued injury trouble clears the way for the Connacht man to rekindle his partnership with Henshaw. Aki's aggressive carrying and defensive work-rate make him a superb inside option. His performance against Oyonnax, particularly the variance in his running lines and off-load for Tiernan O'Halloran demonstrate he can be a flexible first-receiver too. As an alternative, Chris Farrell has done little wrong either.

11. Keith Earls 

Another straightforward choice. Earls is on fire while his pace and footwork have never looked better.

10. Johnny Sexton 

Despite some injury concerns, it seems good game management by Leo Cullen has him motoring fine for that opening game. One of the best in the world when on form.

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9. Conor Murray 

First name on the teamsheet. The best nine in the tournament.

1.  Jack McGrath 

Mr. Reliable. Brilliant in the scrum and a tireless tackler. McGrath has no questions marks over his discipline, he is as talented in attack as defense and will give his all for the 60 minutes or so he is on the field.

2. Rory Best 

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Despite Ulster's huge issues right now, Best has somehow maintained superb form coming into this tournament. A point that has been raised by more than one pundit, a part of Ulster's problem is the players around Best aren't doing enough. A run of games with Ireland will do him the world of good. The form of Sean Cronin at Leinster gives a major option to Schmidt with a huge impact sub.

3. Tadhg Furlong

The best tight-head in the world, as good an all-rounder as any who have played in the green jersey.

4. Iain Henderson

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Another figure who has persisted despite poor club form. The most dynamic lock Ireland have.

5. Devin Toner

Toner has struck up quite the partnership with Scott Fardy and deserves his place in the Irish second-row. However, the emergence of Ultan Dillane and James Ryan gives distinctly more dynamic options and both will fight it out for a place on the bench.

6. Peter O'Mahony

Even with the phenomenal options Ireland have in the back-row, O'Mahony remains peerless and a fantastic leader to have on the pitch.

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7. Josh Van Der Flier

A toss of a coin between him and Dan Leavy but Van Der Flier is the most traditional openside in Irish rugby and brings everything Schmidt expects of his back-row. His recent performances for Leinster, including a recording breaking tackle count against Connacht, should see him get the nod.

8. CJ Stander 

Jack Conan has been excellent for Leinster but Stander is the standout option here. The first-up ball carrier has an extraordinarily hard job in making even an inch of gain yet Stander regularly gathers yards. Been in great form for Munster and has performed every time he's been picked for Ireland.

SEE ALSO: Five Irish Based Players Nominated For European Player Of The Year

Maurice Brosnan

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