Ronan O’Gara has called on Ireland to play “two complete rookies” at scrum-half and fly-half for their upcoming game against Italy in the Six Nations.
Ireland’s hopes of winning a Six Nations title were all but ended after losing their first two games of the championship, leaving them in fifth place.
Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray missed the loss against France due to injury but are expected to be fit in time for the game against Italy on the 27th of February.
However, the former Munster and Ireland player told Virgin Media that now is the time to give inexperienced players the reins against the Italians.
“For the Italian game it’s an absolute clean slate, with I’d say probably five options at half-back. I think with the quality elsewhere in the team it’s an opportunity to blood two complete rookies at nine and 10.
“You can also have experienced players in reserve but you won’t have that luxury at all against Scotland and against England.
“I think the key point is if we were to learn from previous Rugby World Cup campaigns the changes like that need to happen now, because that’s essentially what interests every Irish rugby supporter,” O’Gara
Harry Byrne & Craig Casey to play vs Italy?
— Virgin Media Sport (@VMSportIE) February 14, 2021
Plenty of options for Andy Farrell
While the likes of Harry Byrne and Craig Casey are yet to make their international debuts, O’Gara backed the two youngsters to start against Italy.
“Yep, 100 per cent I’d look at that [starting Byrne and Casey]. I think Harry Byrne is in camp at the minute so he’s an option. [Ciaran] Frawley from Leinster is traditionally playing at 12 but he can play at 10.
“Ross Byrne I think should be commended today for what he did – he nailed those two kicks, especially that one to go to 15-13. It was a brilliant kick and he’s a test-quality kicker.
“The verdict on Billy Burns is very much still up in the air because he only played half a game and had to get out with a HIA. Gibson-Park I thought was very good today but there’s an awful lot of good nines in Ireland.
“There’s guys like [Andrew] Conway, there’s guys like Bundee Aki, there’s guys like Chris Farrell in the backline. There’s plenty of options but if we keep talking people down they’ll feel down.”
Andy Farrell resisted the urge to blood new players at nine and 10 against Georgia in the Autumn Nations Cup last year, selecting Murray and Burns on that occasion.
However, with Ireland’s title hopes all but dead, the head coach may be tempted to take a few more risks in his team selection against a side that have conceded 91 points in their opening two Six Nations fixtures.