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The Ireland Team That Will Start The Six Nations Vs The One That Should

The Ireland Team That Will Start The Six Nations Vs The One That Should
By Conor O'Leary Updated
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The Joe Schmidt era in charge of Ireland has taught us a number of things. First, never doubt his selections - they always seem to work out. Second, he always puts his faith in those he knows and trusts. His early team selections were skewed towards Leinster players, because that's who he knew.

Players like Keith Earls, Simon Zebo, and Robbie Henshaw all had to bide their time in extended squads before they were given a chance. There is absolutely no indication that Schmidt will change his methods going forward, but if he were, at the start of a World Cup cycle would be the time to infuse the team with some new talent.

The vast majority of the in form players in Irish rugby right now aren't trusted members of Schmidts. Which means that Schmidt faces some tough choices - does he go with his tried and trusted like so many Ireland coaches before him, or does he reward the form and youth of the new breed?

15. Rob Kearney

This is the obvious and safest choice. Kearney's position isn't a secure as it has been in recent years, and given that he will be 33 by the time the next World Cup rolls around, he won't have the monopoly on the jersey that he has been afforded.

Ideally I'd like to see Jared Payne trialled in his natural position, but that doesn't look like it will ever happen. Simon Zebo emerged as a contender to Kearney's fullback jersey during the World Cup, but his form has seen him take a back seat in the last few weeks.

Should be: Rob Kearney

14. Dave Kearney

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The younger Kearney cemented a place in Schmidt's trusted posse by finding the form of his life from August to October. The same can't be said for his November and December form. He's still hard-working and will do the jobs that Schmidt wants him to, but with the abundance of talent that Schmidt has at his disposal, we can't help but wonder if more in-form options are worth exploring right now. Gilroy would be my choice had he not fractured his eye socket, meaning this spot will be highly contested between Andrew Trimble and Keith Earls. We'll give it to Trimble on the basis that we don't know how bad Earls' injury is - but I'd happily see Earls in there too.

Should be: Andrew Trimble

13. Luke Fitzgerald

With Jared Payne out, and Fitzgerald flourishing at 12, he seems a likely candidate to partner Robbie Henshaw in the centres. Never mind that Henshaw is a natural 13, and Fitzgerald's play is on the inside - Schmidt will make it work. There would be a certain excitement to watching this centre combination, but I'm an advocate of finally seeing Henshaw in open space - where I believe he can do the most damage. There's an argument that Garry Ringrose should be thrust straight into the starting team, but I'd favour a more cautious approach. I'd like to see him off the bench against Italy and France, but perhaps facing the behemoths of George North and Jamie Roberts shouldn't be his introduction to international rugby.

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Should be: Robbie Henshaw

12. Robbie Henshaw

All indications seem to suggest that Henshaw will be back in the middle of January, which means that he has plenty of time to re-establish his form ahead of the Six Nations. Not that he needs much lead in time - his showing against France in the World Cup was fantastic, and that came after being idle for a number of weeks. As mentioned, I think he's more suited to playing one further out, but I can't see Schmidt altering his plans - especially with Payne out. I'd really like to see Stuart McCloskey given a chance. His talents, skillset and physique is something Ireland have never had before, and in combination with Henshaw could be devastating.

Should be: Stuuart McCloskey

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11. Keith Earls

Dave Kearney is more suited to the right wing, and with Luke Fitzgerald playing more in the centre than Earls, that means that Earls will be accommodated on the left wing ahead of Simon Zebo with Tommy Bowe out injured. I have Earls' already playing on the right wing, because I think that with McCloskey and Henshaw in the centres, Fitzgerald's form needs to be fit in somewhere, and he's a better left wing than right.

Should be: Luke Fitzgerald

10. Johnny Sexton

Despite his dip in form, he's still the man you want in charge of your team. Paddy Jackson is getting closer, and has to have leapfrogged Ian Madigan for the bench spot by now, surely?

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Should be: Johnny Sexton

9. Eoin Reddan

It looks like Conor Murray's hip injury might keep him out for a few weeks. So in making a safe assumption that he will not feature, I'll also make a safe assumption that Schmidt will prefer experience over youth in an already injury ravaged team. We still haven't seen enough of Kieran Marmion at this level, having only played 43 minutes of international rugby across four caps. Marmion is one of the few young players ready to make the step up at scrumhalf, and both Boss and Reddan are closer to 40 than 30. I fear that Boss will be the backup scrumhalf on the bench too.

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Should be: Kieran Marmion

1. Jack McGrath

Even if Cian Healy was fit, I still think Jack McGrath should be the starter. As it is, Healy's injury plagued 2015 look set to continue into the early days of 2016. That could well change through the year, but McGrath simply must start. Wales' tighthead Samson Lee is a fearsome scrummager, and McGrath is simply better in the set-piece than Healy even when Healy is in form. Injuries to Denis Buckley and James Cronin mean that Dave Kilcoyne looks to be the man on the bench should Healy not recover.

Should be: Jack McGrath

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2. Rory Best

Nothing to see here. Best is the clear top hooker, and the most trusted player who is also in form.

Should be: Rory Best

3. Mike Ross

Mike Ross can do what he likes, and Schmidt will trust him to be the cornerstone of this scrum. His recent injury means he won't have the match fitness he needs to start, which makes me think we should test out how Marty Moore or Tadhg Furlong will do against a strong Welsh front row.

Should be: Marty Moore

4. Devin Toner

Iain Henderson's injury and Paul O'Connell's departure makes this decision a lot easier.

Should be: Devin Toner

5. Donnacha Ryan

It's just brilliant seeing Ryan back playing rugby again. Hopefully he'll be bulky enough to back up Mike Ross in the scrum.

Should be: Donnacha Ryan

6. Chris Henry

Peter O'Mahony's injury leaves a spot open for Schmidt's preferred backrow that will be filled by one of Chris Henry, Rhys Ruddock, or Jordi Murphy. Murphy has been simply awful since returning from the World Cup, and will be given the chance to reclaim his form with Leinster during the Six Nations. Henry is more likely to be trusted and was ahead of Ruddock in the pecking order. CJ Stander has a strong claim here, and if he is being considered by Schmidt, it will be at blindside first. But given that I don't think it's likely Stander will be involved in the first XV, I'll leave his name out. One of Ruddock or Stander will be on the bench, but it'll probably be the Leinster man.

Should be: Sean O'Brien

7. Sean O'Brien

Man of the match in the inter-provincial tie with Munster, Seanie continued on from his star turn against France. We need him to. As long as he keeps his temper in check, this should be a big campaign for O'Brien, and we need him to step up into a leadership role.

Should be: Chris Henry

8. Jamie Heaslip

There will be increasing pressure on Heaslip now that CJ Stander and Jack Conan are around, but it would be one of the most surprising things in the history of Irish sport if Schmidt didn't pick Heaslip at no. 8, especially in a team shorn of the leadership of Paul O'Connell, Peter O'Mahony, and Jared Payne. So, I'm really tempted to slot Stander in here, but I don't think it's realistic at all.

Should be: Jamie Heaslip

At least there are options there for Schmidt, unlike for previous head coaches.

See Also: 8 Players That Will Prove That 2016 Will Be A Bright Year For Irish Rugby

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