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Thursday 15 November 2018

Ruddock to make Irish side on form

Schmidt has selection dilemmas

Leinster’s Rhys Ruddock in action against Montpellier’s Thomas Darmon (left) and Joseph Tomane. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster’s Rhys Ruddock in action against Montpellier’s Thomas Darmon (left) and Joseph Tomane. Photo: Sportsfile

As the first two rounds of The Champions Cup are left to hang there, in mid-air, Leinster lead Pool 3, Munster hold a share of the lead of Pool 4 and third-placed Ulster are in a spot of bother in Pool 1.

In the Challenge Cup, Connacht have control of Pool 5, for the moment, from Donncha O'Callaghan's Worcester Warriors.

What does all this mean for Ireland? Who is in form? Who has lost form? Who hasn't even shown form ahead of the Ireland squad set to be announced this afternoon?

Lack

For the record, Leinster's Seán O'Brien, Rob Kearney, Jamie Heaslip and Garry Ringrose - he will not be back until December - have not been considered due to their lack of game-time.

Ulster's Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding are in the same category due to non-rugby related issues and Jared Payne has not played since The Lions tour to New Zealand.

Now, Josh van der Fleir has been ruled out of the series with syndesmosis of the ankle.

Rory Best has been granted leave to be included, despite just 18 minutes of European rugby, due to the fact he holds the captaincy.

First, there are 'the untouchables', the men who defy even 'bar stool argument', Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray, Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson.

The other Lions O'Brien, Jack McGrath, Robbie Henshaw, Peter O'Mahony and CJ Stander have not been dominant for one reason or another. The maturity of Simon Zebo, still available until the summer, has been upholstered by a more detailed approach to hold off the developing Joey Carbery and Connacht's Tiernan O'Halloran.

Henshaw would find comfort in knowing his old Connacht sidekick Bundee Aki will finally make his Ireland debut next month.

The experienced wings Andrew Trimble and Dave Kearney have not been able to string enough games together.

The standouts have been Keith Earls, taking his summer form into autumn, and the electric Jacob Stockdale, just 21, somehow demoted to bench duty in La Rochelle.

Admittedly, it was at Stade Deflandre where Tommy Bowe showed some of the old spark to have his best game this season.

The loose-head side of the front row is a source of interest as Cian Healy recaptured his zeal long before the two tries against Glasgow.

McGrath is showing signs of the huge minutes he has put up over the last two seasons.

The venom of Munster's Dave Kilcoyne's carrying, his boundless energy and solid scrummaging give the Munster man an edge on form.

The question surrounding the second-row centres on who will stand beside the brilliant Henderson, astonishing in defeat at La Rochelle.

Leinster's James Ryan, 21, and Ulster's Kieran Treadwell, 21, are making up ground fast, the former looking like the natural long-term partner for Henderson.

Connacht's Ultan Dillane is slowly getting back to where he was at the beginning of last season.

The has to find a way to harness his explosive athleticism and be more than an intermittent contributor.

But, Devin Toner's levels of aggression have risen this season and his experience will be needed against the Springboks.

As always, the backs-row is an island of the bountiful and the gifted.

The three most outstanding individuals just happen to play for the same province.

Rhys Ruddock, Man of the Match in Glasgow, straight carrying, tackle-machine van der Flier and Jack Conan, fast-becoming the complete number eight, are the men of the moment.

The omission of van der Flier does make way for Tommy O'Donnell, who is back to his best in a back-row in which O'Mahony and Stander have not quite found their rhythm.

DES BERRY'S IRELAND XV: S Zebo; J Stockdale, B Aki, R Henshaw, K Earls; J Sexton, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, R Best (capt), T Furlong, D Toner, I Henderson, R Ruddock, T O'Donnell, J Conan.

IRELAND'S NOVEMBER FIXTURES

(all Aviva Stadium, KO5.30)

Sat, Nov 11: IRELAND v South Africa; Sat, Nov 18: IRELAND v Fiji; Sat, Nov 25: IRELAND v Argentina.

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