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The Irish Team We Want To See Picked To Face Italy On Saturday

The Irish Team We Want To See Picked To Face Italy On Saturday
By Gavin Cooney

Johnny Sexton's audacity has obscured a couple of harsh realities for Ireland. They eeked out a win in Paris in spite of not even threatening to score a try, now lying a slightly distant third in the table with England and Wales clear at the top having picked up four-try bonus point in their respective batterings of Italy and Scotland.

While a Grand Slam is the ultimate aim for this Irish squad, taking Italy for all five match points is critical in safeguarding championship ambitions should the Grand Slam go awry.

In keeping with that, here's the Irish side we'd like to see selected to take the game to Italy on Saturday.

Full-back - Joey Carbery 

Rob Kearney had a good game in Paris - he was customarily solid defensively and in the air aside from two aberrations - clumsily dropping a ball in his own half and the poor clearance kick that led to Teddy Thomas try, getting caught between putting the ball into touch or keeping it short enough to allow an efficient kick-chase. His attacking remains frustratingly inhibited at times, as was evident in the first-half of the game in Paris when he tossed the ball wide to Keith Earls too soon, rather than hanging waiting to commit a tackler.

History dictates that Sexton is unlikely to be able to complete five sets of 80 minutes across the entire tournament, meaning Carbery could find him tossed into an inferno without a moment's notice. Having played relatively little rugby since breaking his arm last November, the Italian match will allow him to get up to speed while also giving Ireland's running game a little more edge.

Wingers - Keith Earls and Jordan Larmour 

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Earls was starved of possession against France, but was ruthlessly efficient with whatever ball he did get, and deserves the chance to run riot against the Italians.

Larmour also deserves his opportunity to shine, with his selection on the wing away to Montpellier perhaps portending his Six Nations involvement. Reviews of Jacob Stockdale's Six Nations debut was skewed by his being conspicuously burned by Teddy Thomas, but that moment was the brutish crescendo of an enervating game in which he carried across short distances as a kind of auxiliary forward.

Stockdale should be on the bench and be given the opportunity to attack some of the space that will be available to him in the final quarter, but Larmour deserves the nod from the beginning.

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Centres - Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki 

Aki should be fit in spite of an Instagram post hinting otherwise, and if he is good to go, he should be given the chance to reprise the old Connacht center-partnership.

Half-backs - Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray

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While there might be an argument to wrap both men in cotton wool, better to start them to give us all some peace of mind and keep on target for the bonus point. We'll ideally see Luke McGrath and either Ian Keatley or Joey Carbery at 10 by the 55-minute mark.

Props - Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong

Schmidt rotated his loosehead props for the Italian game last year, expect him to do the same this weekend. While Furlong is alongside Sexton and Murray in the irreplaceable category for Ireland, starting him is necessary in order to disabuse the Italians of any early hopes of an upset.

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Hooker - Rory Best 

The captain should be given the chance to play himself back into form after an indifferent performance in Paris.

Second-row- James Ryan and Iain Henderson 

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Schmidt made only two changes for the Italian game last year: at prop and at second-row. Henderson lost out on that occasion but should maintain his place this time around, to build his partnership with James Ryan.

Sexton-aside, Ryan was Ireland's best player against France, and will keep his place this weekend.

Flankers - Peter O'Mahony and Dan Leavy 

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By the mid-point of last year's Six Nations, Ireland's back-row had such depth that Peter O'Mahony couldn't force his way into it. Now, unfortunately, it's looking light - particularly at 7. Josh Van Der Flier will miss the rest of the season, with Sean O'Brien and Tommy O'Donnell also absent this weekend.

Leavy was impressive as Van Der Flier's replacement against France, and will play this weekend. O'Mahony was relatively quiet against France, and is unlikely to repeat that against the Italians.

Number 8 - CJ Stander 

Stander followed a poor first-half in Paris with a barnstorming second, with few forwards as influential in rolling through 41 phases to give Sexton the platform to exhibit his genius. Stander ran in a hat-trick in last year's win in Rome, and while he may not repeat the feat in Dublin, he should play.

Replacements

Cian HealySean Cronin, and John Ryan should be the replacement front row, and expect all three to be on the pitch by the hour mark. Luke McGrath seems to be Schmidt's preferred choice to offer specialist cover for Conor Murray, while we are proposing Ian Keatley as the replacement out-half given that we're starting Joey Carbery at full-back.

Devin Toner should be the main to offer relief to one of his second-rows colleagues, with Jordi Murphy promoted from obscurity to cover the back-row.

Finally, we're keeping Jacob Stockdale in the squad, albeit off the bench.

See Also: Watch: Georgian Rugby Game Interrupted For Mass Punch-Up Between Players

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