Ireland will be looking to get their Six Nations campaign back on track on Saturday when they take on Italy and now, ahead of the trip to Rome, head coach Joe Schmidt has named the side he hopes will do just that.
Defeat to Scotland on the opening day of the Championships was a wake up call for the sluggish Irish. Unable to match the intensity of their hosts, shipping three first tries is simply not acceptable for aspiring champions.
A second half that saw a refocused Ireland nearly complete an epic recovery, ultimately ended as it began, with Ireland needlessly conceding possession through ill-discipline and poor handling.
Leaving Edinburgh, fans were asking questions. How can an Ireland that took down New Zealand, South Africa and Australia last year, come back in February and be mere shadows of that all conquering side?
Schmidt’s match day 23 will now look to answer all the questions asked and restore confidence in Ireland’s lofty ambitions.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) February 9, 2017
Seriously question marks had hung over both Johnny Sexton and Peter O’Mahony since the week before the Scotland game and both have failed in their bid to be fit for the Italian job.
Paddy Jackson, who deputised for Sexton in Murrayfield, will retain his place alongside Conor Murray in the half-back line.
In the pack, Devin Toner and Donnacha Ryan renew their second row partnership, while Ultain Dillane fills the replacement spot to the bench.
Jamie Heaslip, CJ Stander and Sean O’Brien complete the back row forwards line.
Knuckling down at the head of the scrum will be Rory Best at hooker, Cian Healy returning at loosehead and Tadhg Furlong at tighthead.
Furlong is nursing a bruised shoulder this week following the Scotland clash and had been a potential doubt. His name in the squad will certainly help boost confidence in Ireland’s set piece superiority and tackling capabilities.
Retaining Robbie Henshaw at centre alongside Garry Ringrose, Schmidt has reshuffled his back line speedsters, with Simon Zebo and Keith Earls set to start on the wings, while Rob Kearney gets the nod at fullback.
Watch the live press conference in full below.
Only a bonus point win will do for Ireland as they chase last weekends winners England, Wales and Scotland. Anything less and there may still remain a mathematical chance of championship glory, but in reality, all will be lost.
Kick off in the Italian capital on Saturday is at 2:50pm.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
This week’s edition of The Oval Office, we speak with Niall Ronan, David Arnott and talk all things Six Nations.