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The 5 Irish Players With The Most To Gain V Wales

The 5 Irish Players With The Most To Gain V Wales
By Conor O'Leary
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Joe Schmidt doesn't usually reveal much in his press conferences, but yesterday was different. In announcing the team to play Wales this Saturday, Schmidt revealed some of what he will be looking at over the next four weeks.

With eight to nine players being released from the training squad after this game, there is plenty to play for. It's the first warm-up game for both sides, and Schmidt has given a lot of fringe players their chance to impress. He will be looking at combinations to work well together, making sure he has enough coverage in different positions.

Some players could be forcing their way into the final cut with a performance, but conversely some players may already be close to getting cut next week.

Here are the five players playing against Wales with the most to gain:

Darren Cave

 

Often seen as the man looking in from the outside, but Cave finally has a chance here. Usually plays at outside centre, his selection at 12 hints that Schmidt is looking to see if Cave can offer some versatility that not many others in the squad can.

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He's been in good form for Ulster, and if he can combine with Earls on what is probably his biggest test with Ireland to date, he has a good chance of surviving next week's cut.

Richardt Strauss

Richardt Strauss is currently in two mini-battles amongst the Irish hookers. Assuming that Rory Best is the de facto starter, Strauss has a chance to recapture his magical 2011 form that saw him be a pivotal cog in Leinster's run to the Heineken Cup.

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A good performance from Strauss can see him put pressure on Sean Cronin to be the second choice hooker, but anything else might see him slip down the pecking order with Rob Herring hovering behind him.

Keith Earls
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A 31 man squad is very limiting to Schmidt, which means that any hint of versatility is extremely beneficial. That could be the difference that separates the gallons of talent in Ireland's back-three stocks.

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That's what Schmidt is looking for from Earls here, and if he can add another option to a Brian O'Driscoll-less centres - then that could be enough to see him on the short flight over the Irish sea.

Kieran Marmion

He may only be on the bench, but it's an opportunity for the Connacht scrum-half. His form from the last two years dipped significantly at the tail-end of his season. So far Schmidt has tended to go with Isaac Boss' experience ahead of the young energy of Marmion.

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He will need a strong cameo against the country of his birth to fight his way into contention for the third and final scrumhalf spot ahead of Boss.

I think he can do it, but then again - I'm not the coach who has won two Six Nations titles.

Michael Bent

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Noises coming out of the Ireland camp indicate that Schmidt is leaning towards taking just five props to make room for another player instead of taking my strongly endorsed six props to allow for specialities.

With Michael Bent the only prop in the Irish squad able to play both sides of the scrum, he just needs a good performance against Wales to indicate to Schmidt that he can play tighthead, which will free up another position.

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Struggle badly, and not only could he be out and open the door for Dave Kilcoyne and Tadhg Furlong, but he could be hindering the chances of Donnacha Ryan, Tommy O'Donnell, Darren Cave, or any of the other players who are that close to selection.

See Also: Keith Earls' Selection Leads To A Joe Schmidt Out Call
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