Four Questions To Be Answered As Ireland Eye November Reign
Joe Schmidt’s charges are back in the saddle this month as South Africa, Fiji and Argentina arrive at Aviva Stadium to kick off another season of international rugby. With happy memories of last year’s series – including that momentous win against the All Blacks – the men in green will be looking for an equally successful run this year; a clean sweep is well within their grasp!
There’s a few major issues, however, to be tackled if it’s to be a November to remember. We’ve picked out four of the major talking points ahead of kick-off…
OH, NO ZEBO
The announcement that the Munster winger will head to France at the end of the season always put Simon Zebo’s international future in doubt, but many were still surprised to see him jettisoned from the squad so hastily. His omission, though, brings about the possibility of some new faces cutting their teeth in the back three; the uncapped Adam Byrne and Darren Sweetnam will be pushing for game time, while Joey Carbery may well be handed a chance to further his claims at full-back.
FLANKS FOR ASKING
“Embarrassment of riches” doesn’t come close to covering it. With a trio of Lions test players – Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien and CJ Stander – at his beck and call, one might think selecting a back row would be child’s play for Schmidt. That, though, would be to ignore the other immense options on hand; summer captain Rhys Ruddock, in-form No. 8 Jack Conan, and Munster’s rampaging Tommy O’Donnell to name but three. It’s tempting to suggest that the Lions tourists represent the safest bet, but you can guarantee heated debates up and down the country regarding the makeup of our loose forwards – it’s the proverbial nice headache to have!
CENTER OF ATTENTION
The ongoing injury struggles of Jared Payne and Garry Ringrose leave an unfamiliar look to Ireland’s midfield options – but the possibilities are tantalising. Bundee Aki is now eligible, qualifying under the residency rule, and the prospect of he and Robbie Henshaw reuniting is a thrilling one; their partnership was key to Connacht’s sensational league win 18 months ago. Munster’s Chris Farrell and Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey are also at his disposal – a pair of huge ball-carriers that confirm physicality is the order of the day.
BEST IN SHOW
Retaining Rory Best as captain was a very clear sign of the trust Schmidt has in his on-field leader (given he’ll be 37 by the next World Cup, some speculated a new option might be explored), but the choice of back-up only underlines the Ulsterman’s importance. With Niall Scannell sidelined with a dodgy thumb, it was seen as a no-brainer that Sean Cronin’s late-game ballast would feature once again; instead, an inexperienced pairing of James Tracey and Rob Herring demand that Best’s contributions may have to be even more impactful and enduring than before…
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