Tuesday 25 October 2016

Donnacha Ryan and Keith Earls start for Ireland against Wales

Munster's Donnacha Ryan, left, and Keith Earls
Munster's Donnacha Ryan, left, and Keith Earls

The pressure will be on in Cardiff on Saturday after Joe Schmidt handed a host of players their World Cup lifeline today.

The Ireland coach has three matches to whittle down his 46-man squad to a final panel of 31, beginning with the Millennium Stadium meeting with Wales and he has named a host of fringe players in his squad to face Warren Gatland's men, with captain Jamie Heaslip and tighthead Mike Ross the only members in the team who have regularly started under the New Zealander.

With competition fierce in a number of positions, the heat is on a host of the panel to deliver a performance that will put them in the frame to make the plane to Wales and England.

Schmidt will be hoping two of his predecessor's most trusted lieutenants can roll back the years on their return to international rugby in Cardiff. Keith Earls and Donnacha Ryan return to international rugby after two-and-a-half years ruined by injury and make their first starts during this regime.

Earls is given the opportunity to show his versatility in the outside centre slot and will hope to show the coach that he can deputise for Jared Payne while offering his proven ability on the wing.

Ryan, meanwhile, is handed the chance to show what he can offer to the engine room alongside Iain Henderson who finished last season so strongly. The Tipperary native appears to be in a straight shootout with Dan Tuohy for the final second-row slot on the plane, with Devin Toner and captain Paul O'Connell guaranteed to go.

The front-row of Jack McGrath, Richardt Strauss and Mike Ross can all be confident of travelling, but replacements Dave Kilcoyne and Michael Bent would appear to be in direct confrontation as they vie to earn a place as one of five props in the squad with Bent's ability to cover both sides giving him the advantage. Rory Best adds experience off the bench.

In the back-row, the pressure appears to be on Tommy O'Donnell who is in a three-way race with Chris Henry and Jordi Murphy for two back-row slots along with Heaslip, Peter O'Mahony and Sean O'Brien.

Behind the scrum, Paddy Jackson is given his chance to audition for the role of Johnny Sexton's deputy with rival Ian Madigan on the bench, while Darren Cave has been given the nod ahead of Gordon D'Arcy to show his wares alongside Earls in midfield.

The back three is arguably the most competitive area of the squad and Felix Jones, Fergus McFadden and 2014 player of the year Andrew Trimble getting their chance, with Simon Zebo on the bench.

With Luke Fitzgerald, Sean Cronin and Marty Moore possibly back in contention for the meeting with Scotland next week at the Aviva Stadium and Cian Healy still some way away from a return, the competition in the 46-man squad is fierce and a host of players like D'Arcy, Noel Reid, Rob Herring, Craig Gilroy, Dave Kearney, Isaac Boss, Jack Conan and Tadhg Furlong still to come into the equation a slew of Six Nations starters to come back, this may be the only chance a number of players have to impress.

Ireland team to face Wales: Felix Jones; Andrew Trimble, Keith Earls, Darren Cave, Fergus McFadden; Paddy Jackson, Eoin Reddan; Jack McGrath, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross; Iain Henderson, Donnacha Ryan; Jordi Murphy, Tommy O'Donnell, Jamie Heaslip (capt).

Replacements: Rory Best, Dave Kilcoyne, Michael Bent, Dan Tuohy, Chris Henry, Kieran Marmion, Ian Madigan, Simon Zebo.

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