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So now that we have finally gotten over the heart attack that was the final 41 phases of play and THAT kick in Paris, it is time to move on to the visit of Italy to the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
The Irish rugby community waited with bated breath to see what changes would be made to the team for the visit of the apparent minnows of the competition. Would the tight game in Paris mean that sticking to the tried and true 15 be the way to go? Or would Joe show trust in the squad and bring in some new faces?
Well the good news is that he has done …… eh…….. Both?
The bright lights and headline making call is that Jordan Larmour (as in armour) has been given the tracksuit for his first cap, after having his first full Leinster game this season. Also in tracksuits on the day are Healy, Cronin, Porter, Roux, Stander, Marmion and Carbery. Roux and Marmion being the players that Joe has always had an affinity for. Regardless of their form they will be close to the squad, he sees something in them and in fairness; they rarely have an off day based on what they are asked to do.
And that is the key, this coach asks players to work at 90%+ of optimal output at all times but that output is never unrealistic or something that hasn’t been regularly achieved at provincial level. In regimes gone by players would be thrown into situations that would not match their top level experience. Kidney had done it twice in recent memory and it took the player (he who cannot be named for legal reasons) a long time to come back to full mental fitness, because he was asked to do something far out of his range at the time.
So we see Larmour (as in armour) and Porter brought into the tracksuits for the game on Saturday. Both have been performing consistently and at a very high level for Leinster. Both well worth the time in the squad and both will be future leaders, as long as they can be kept at home when the lure of foreign euros will no doubtedly be there.
The backs remain unchanged and that is probably fair enough. All played well, under tough conditions last week in Paris and none of them did anything to lose their place. If it was a November series then a change would be a good idea, but with points needed, keeping the backs in situ is a good call. The fellas on the bench will push the starters to hit the ground running which is an important trait to continue from last week.
McGrath comes in for Healy in the front row, probably just the way it will be going on. Both are absolute savages and pushing each other to be better which is massively important. If both remain injury free then we should look forward to game on game off for each at 1. This will add time to their career too.
Best captains which is not in doubt, another strong game needed. Toner comes back in for Ryan who was immense last week, absolutely no shame in that and he will have plenty of time in the match day squad. The lad is in his early 20’s. No rush!
The back row is another thing of beauty, nicely balances with Conan (the Barbarian) at 8, Leavy (the…..also a barbarian) at 7 and the second captain (first captain, second caption, whatever) in O’Mahony at 6. If you rewatch the match from last week and keep an eye on POM, you will see him go through a monster amount of work all the way to the final ruck.
The Italians come here with nothing to lose. The French had nothing to lose last week so Ireland needs to hit the ground running. It will be cold in Lansdowne/Aviva, but it shouldn’t be too wet so running rugby and a showing of some inventive attacking should be the order of the day for points. The Italians love a scrap so that has to be taken out of them
After last week I am not sure that predicting is any good, Ireland by 3 scores.