Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale are the sole Ulster representatives in the Irish side which will take on Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday (KO 14:30) in the Natwest Six Nations
Ex-Ulster player, Chris Farrell replaces the injured Robbie Henshaw in the centre.
Cian Healy returns to the front row alongside captain Rory Best while Andrew Porter starts in replace of Tadhg Furlong who left prematurely in the match against Italy two weeks ago. There’s no Iain Henderson as he has not recovered from a hamstring injury in the same game leaving James Ryan and Devin Toner in the second row. Peter O’Mahony, Dan Leavy and CJ Stander make up a physical back row combination.
Chris Farrell is the only change in the backline as expected. Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton make up the half back pairing with Bundee Aki partnering Farrell in midfield. Jacob Stockdale remains on the left wing with Keith Earls on the right wing and Rob Kearney in his usual full back position.
Wales have been going through a rough patch in the last year but buoyed by a resurgent Scarlets team, they will cause Ireland problems. Considered Joe Schmidt’s bogey team as they have only lost to Ireland twice in six matches, Wales welcome back Dan Biggar, Leigh Halfpenny and Liam Williams back to the starting XV.
Ireland’s creativity was criticized in last year’s defeat against Wales as the home side were barely put under any pressure. On the other hand however, Wales converted their chances with a rampant George North scoring an impressive brace and a late Jamie Roberts try winning the game.
Hope for a creative improvement this year was quickly dashed in the opening match against France but a thumping win over Italy renewed hope, even if the Italian defence was not the best. If Ireland are to win the game, they need to allow Stockdale and Earls freedom to act as a trail runners to test a Welsh defence which was fairly comfortable last year.
With the flair in Hadleigh Parkes, Liam Williams and Steff Evans, the away side is not short on ingenuity. New Zealand born Parkes who qualified for Wales during the Autumn Internationals, provides a dangerous attacking opposition that Ireland have to deal with. Wales made gained plenty of yards in Ireland’s outside channels last year due to their narrow defence. This year they risk allowing Parkes an opportunity to offload and put one of the wingers through a gap.
There’s no room for John Cooney who was deservedly called up p midweek as an injury replacement for Luke McGrath. He will now likely feature on Saturday for Ulster who travel to Llanelli to take on Scarlets.
The FRU predicts: On paper, Ireland are the favourites, however the match is not nearly as clear-cut as some possibly anticipate. I’ll tip Ireland due to home advantage however the Scarlet contingent will pose plenty of headaches for Schmidt and Andy Farrell.
|Rob Kearney||15||Leigh Halfpenny|
|Keith Earls||14||Liam Williams|
|Chris Farrell||13||Scott Williams|
|Bundee Aki||12||Hadleigh Parkes|
|Jacob Stockdale||11||Steff Evans|
|Johnny Sexton||10||Dan Biggar|
|Conor Murray||9||Gareth Davies|
|Cian Healy||1||Rob Evans|
|Rory Best||2||Ken Owens|
|Andrew Porter||3||Samson Lee|
|James Ryan||4||Cory Hill|
|Devin Toner||5||Alun-Wyn Jones|
|Peter O’Mahony||6||Aaron Shingler|
|Dan Leavy||7||Josh Navidi|
|CJ Stander||8||Ross Moriarty|
|Sean Cronin||16||Elliot Dee|
|Jack McGrath||17||Wyn Jones|
|John Ryan||18||Tomas Francis|
|Quinn Roux||19||Bradley Davies|
|Jack Conan||20||Justin Tipuric|
|Kieran Marmion||21||Aled Davies|
|Joey Carbery||22||Gareth Anscombe|
|Fergus McFadden||23||George North|