Ireland kick off their autumn campaign with a tricky game against a dangerous Japan side which they narrowly saw off this summer.
A heavily-depleted Ireland side beat Japan 39-31 in an exciting encounter almost four months ago, which proved that head coach Andy Farrell has plenty of talented players to call upon when the country’s senior international stars are unavailable.
While there may be some temptation to pick a largely second-string side again, Japan are a threatening outfit which shouldn’t be taken for granted, and Ireland need a game to prepare for the following week’s match against the All Blacks.
As a result, we’ve gone with a largely full-strength side, with just a couple of exceptions. You can check out the team we believe Farrell should select below.
Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher and Cian Healy.
Porter’s recent switch back to loosehead has allowed Leinster to select their best two props in their starting line up, and Farrell should follow suit this November with Ireland.
Cian Healy has been a fantastic servant to his country for more than a decade now, but Porter and Furlong are the best props in Ireland at the moment and could be for many years to come.
Kelleher looks to have established himself as his country’s first-choice hooker over the summer and his recent form for Leinster shows that he hasn’t taken a backwards step since an impressive few months which saw him called up to the Lions squad.
Hooker or Winger?
— United Rugby Championship (URC) (@URCOfficial) October 22, 2021
James Ryan and Iain Henderson.
Ireland have an embarrassment of riches in the second row at the moment, with Ryan and Henderson just about seeing off competition in the lock department.
Both men had somewhat disappointing summers, as Henderson missed out on winning a test cap for the Lions while Ryan missed out on the tour altogether, but the pair rarely disappoint for their country.
Ryan and Henderson will have a point to prove this November and a big performance against Japan will set them up nicely for a match against an All Blacks side who beat Wales by 38 points in Cardiff at the weekend.
Tadhg Beirne, Nick Timoney and Jack Conan.
Beirne has established himself as one of Ireland’s best players in the last couple of years, and whether it’s in the second row or the back row, the Munster player must start.
Him and his fellow Lions tourist Conan haven’t gotten much game time for their provinces so far this season and will need a tough game against Japan to ensure they are ready for New Zealand.
Josh van der Flier will likely start against the All Blacks, but the Leinster flanker has gotten plenty of minutes under his belt in recent weeks, and a start against Japan will test if Timoney is truly ready for test rugby after winning his first cap against the USA this summer.
Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton.
Murray hasn’t played for Munster much since his return from the Lions’ tour of South Africa and he desperately needs to start against Japan if he is to be up to speed against the All Blacks in a couple of weeks.
The Munster stalwart hasn’t quite been at his best since Ireland’s 2018 Six Nations triumph, but he is still evidently one of the best scrum-halves in Europe, and always puts in an assured performance.
Sexton has impressed for Leinster this season after a lengthy break from rugby over the summer, and will be expected to put in a big performance on the occasion of his 100th cap for his country.
Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose.
Ireland look likely to be without Robbie Henshaw for their three tests in November due to a foot injury, but Farrell does have plenty of talent to call upon in the centre in Aki and Ringrose.
Aki, like his fellow Lions tourists, needs some game time under his belt, and will need to put in a solid performance against Japan if he wants to be at his best against New Zealand, the country of his birth, the following week.
While Ringrose wasn’t at his best last season due to a number of injury set backs, including two broken jaws as well as injuries to his ankle and shoulder, he has looked in good form for Leinster and is an obvious selection at 13 in Henshaw’s absence.
Simon Zebo, Robert Baloucoune and Hugo Keenan.
We’ve gone with an exciting back three in what promises to be a high-scoring encounter, in a new-look combination that could become the norm over the next couple of years.
Baloucoune impressed massively in his first cap against the USA in the summer, and while Keith Earls may replace him in Ireland’s starting team against New Zealand, the Ulsterman deserves a chance against Japan.
Zebo is set to make his long-awaited return to international rugby, and while he may start on the wing, he should switch to full back for the last 20 to 30 minutes of the match to test him out there. Keenan meanwhile, deserves to retain the 15 jersey for the time being.
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— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) October 26, 2021
Dan Sheehan, Dave Kilcoyne, Finlay Bealham, Ryan Baird, Caelan Doris, Craig Casey, Joey Carbery and Jordan Larmour.
Leinster hooker Sheehan may still be behind Ulster’s Rob Herring in the Irish pecking order, but coming on late against Japan may be the perfect opportunity to show off his skills on the international stage for the first time.
Baird and Doris will provide Ireland with plenty of athleticism and power off the bench in the game’s closing stages, while Casey should create a high-tempo game which allows the two of them to thrive late on.
Carbery hasn’t quite been at his best since recovering from a lengthy ankle injury last season, but he still looks to be the Irish fly-half with the most potential, and has enough experience to close out a game.