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Friday 17 August 2018

Time to shine

Irish back trio set to light up Six Nations opener

IRELAND travel to the Stadio Flaminio with arguably as well-balanced a side as could be mustered considering the plethora of injuries suffered by some frontline players.

The hardest hit areas include the backrow and back three positions. With that in mind, Seán O’Brien’s elevation was a certainty and he makes up a formidable unit alongside David Wallace and Denis Leamy.

In the back three I’m delighted to see that Declan Kidney has gone for the combination of Fergus McFadden, Keith Earls and Luke Fitzgerald at full-back.

TRYING TOO HARD

Luke has been trying ever so hard to hit the ground running since his return from injury, probably a little too hard. I believe being back in his favoured position will relax him a little more and hopefully we will see him light up the stadium tomorrow.

His biggest test will be when and where he chooses to ‘have a go’, along with his positioning off the ball and kicking game.

He must be himself, but he would have picked up a lot from how Isa Nacewa has commanded affairs in behind for Leinster.

The scrum-halves, it has to be said, have been bounced around a bit with Peter Stringer falling foul on this occasion.

Whilst I feel both Stringer and Eoin Reddan offer more flow to Ireland’s attacking game, you can understand Kidney’s selection of Tomás O’Leary. Not dissimilar to the Rory Best/Seán Cronin dilemma, Best and O'Leary add a physical edge to a team that is missing Jamie Heaslip and Stephen Ferris.

The selection issues around the second row trio of Paul O’Connell, Leo Cullen and Donnacha O’Callaghan will no doubt continue until the World Cup.

All these players have many strengths. However, I believe that we miss a truly dynamic ball-carrier in that position. In that light, the debate between selection is dampened down a little.

Jonny Sexton has agreed to a new contract with Leinster and Ireland and he has obviously turned down a more sizeable pay packet in favour of remaining here.

Between the signing of Sexton and Jamie Heaslip, the IRFU have arguably got the more important signing in Jonny, considering the pivotal position that he occupies.

OUTSTANDING

Interestingly, this has all happened at the same time as an injury to Heaslip, which has consequently elevated Seán O’Brien to a starting berth with Ireland as a result of his outstanding contribution in the blue No8 jersey.

First game out, it is imperative that Ireland do the basics right against an Italian team who will always fancy their chances at home first game up.

Many would be content to just take a win, but for once it would be great to see Ireland not have to struggle so hard against a side that typically frustrates us.

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