Farrell returns, hearts and minds to be won and more talking points from Ireland’s XV to face Scotland

AFTER THE DISAPPOINTING opening weekend loss to England, Joe Schmidt unveiled his team to take on Scotland in Saturday’s Six Nations clash in Murrayfield (kick-off, 14.15).

You can view the full matchday 23 selection here, with some of our immediate takeaways below.

Big Chris Farrell

While Robbie Henshaw was expected to again strike up the midfield partnership with Bundee Aki, a dead leg means Schmidt has instead selected the same 12-13 axis which forced a win over Wales during last year’s Six Nations.

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That match also marked Chris Farrell’s last Test appearance before a serious knee injury which kept him sidelined until November.

Farrell in training in Carton today. Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

While Ireland’s strength in depth is being severely tested in the second row with Toner, Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne all sidelined the wealth of resources at centre remains astounding.

The recall to bring Farrell a fourth cap does not weaken Ireland at 13, it merely brings a different array of options, exciting ones too as his offloading game and power in contact is sure to help Ireland punch holes in the Scottish defence.

Return of the (back-field) king

Injuries to Ringrose and Henshaw also means there is no admission of selection error from Joe Schmidt after England’s expert exposure of the space in behind Ireland’s defensive line in round one.

There is a high probability that, despite a poor showing against Scarlets, Rob Kearney would have been recalled in any case this week to bring his inimitable quiet assurance while covering massive swathes of space. However, the knocks to the Leinster centres mean that experimenting with a new fullback can be taken off the back-burner for a test run again before the World Cup comes around.

Kearney’s return means the back three combination which served Schmidt so well in the Grand Slam year is back together and, 9-15, only Ringrose is missing from last year’s win over Gregor Townsend’s men.

Tullow Tank revved up and ready to go again

The omission of Josh van der Flier feels less like a reaction to his own performance amid an overall sub-par day for Ireland, and more like it was just time to get Sean O’Brien on the field.

Though he has endured a luckless run of injuries in recent years, O’Brien remains one of the most influential performers in Irish rugby and his presence – vocal and physical – brings a boost to team-mates on both sides of the ball.

Murrayfield on Saturday will mark his first start in a Six Nations game since Ireland toppled England at home in 2017, heady days, and O’Brien will leave no stone unturned in search of a similar outcome.

O’Brien walks off after defeat to England. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

In the carry, he is a ferocious weapon to have in the arsenal for Schmidt and his expertise over the ball at the breakdown should serve to correct a host of issues that went awry on week one.

His presence in a back row also featuring Jack Conan promises a serious dynamic running threat from Ireland against an opponent who enjoy an open game and tend to offer space for opponents to work in too.

Roux’s biggest chance to shine

Whether it be the fact that Quinn Roux has divided his near-seven-year stint in Ireland between provinces east and west, his South African accent or simply that he plays in a position that, by its nature, can be low on eye-catching highlight-reel moments. There is a certain underwhelmed feeling among Ireland’s rugby-watching public at the prospect of the second row earning his way into Schmidt’s starting line-up.

Ryan and Roux in training. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The Connacht stalwart was behind team-mate Ultan Dillane in the original squad selection for this Championship, but as the second row injury situation worsened with Devin Toner’s ankle, his power and set-piece strength have earned him a place in the engine room for a pivotal encounter with Scotland.

Winning his 10th cap on Saturday, this will be Roux’s biggest opportunity on the international stage since his 2016 debut against South Africa. He has added three further starts since, but the Six Nations stage carries much greater limelight and a big performance alongside James Ryan would go a long way in the hearts and minds.

Larmour retained

When Schmidt made sure to mention a second-half error made by Jordan Larmour in the wake of Saturday’s loss, there was a fear that the 21-year-old might pay for the error with his 23 jersey.

Jordan Larmour. Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

With Will Addison and Tom Farrell among those waiting in the wings, Schmidt has kept faith with Larmour and signalled he remains the front-runner to act as the utility cover option on Ireland’s bench behind the first-choice back three of Stockdale, Kearney and Earls.

Larmour naturally offers cover in all three of those spaces and, in the event of an extra body dropping at centre after kick-off, he could be called upon in midfield too.

Originally published at 14.41

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