Schmidt set for tough selections decisions

Ireland have had a near-perfect opening three rounds of the NatWest 6 Nations but face another stern test of their Championship credentials when Scotland visit on Saturday.

Ireland have had a near-perfect opening three rounds of the NatWest 6 Nations but face another stern test of their Championship credentials when Scotland visit on Saturday.

The Scots are fresh from back-to-back wins over France and England so will arrive in Dublin full of confidence for the Round Four clash.

Click here for the complete 2018 NatWest 6 Nations fixture list

Head coach Gregor Townsend has made just a single, enforced, change to his starting line-up with Blair Kinghorn set for his first start in place of Tommy Seymour on the wing.

Joe Schmidt will name his squad of 23 for Ireland’s final home game of the Championship tomorrow and we’ve picked out a few areas to watch out for.

Tight-head for Tadhg?

Tadhg Furlong has declared himself fully fit to start against Scotland after missing Ireland’s 37-27 success over Wales two weeks ago.

The British & Irish Lion started both of Ireland’s first two games but came off against Italy in Round Two and was replaced by Andrew Porter against Wales.

“When you’re building to the Wales game you have to hit targets on time to get back and you’re trying to get your injury right and prep for a Test match which can be tough,” he said.

“When you realise you’re not going to make it, you can concentrate on getting fully right. I was confident I was going to be available for Scotland so it’s been pretty straight-forward sailing.”

Porter is still just 22 years old and certainly looks like a hot prospect for the future but many expect the experienced Furlong to return to the fold to face Scotland.

Henderson return

Another key Ireland man who is back to full fitness is Iain Henderson with the Ulsterman spending a full week in training in the build-up to Round Four.

Like Furlong, lock Henderson started against France and Italy but injured ruled him out against Wales as James Ryan and Devin Toner were named in the engine room.

Ryan, Toner and Henderson have been competing for two spots in the Ireland team this weekend and Schmidt faces a tough call as to which pair he selects.

Quinn Roux came off the bench against Wales in Henderson’s absence and provides a fourth option should Schmidt deem this necessary.

Revolving door

Joe Schmidt will need his third outside centre of the Championship against Scotland after injuries to Robbie Henshaw and Chris Farrell thus far.

Henshaw required surgery on a shoulder injury picked up against Italy with Farrell putting in a man of the match performance against Wales in his first Championship appearance.

But a twisted knee in training has ruled him out of the Scotland clash with Garry Ringrose now expected to make an earlier than anticipated return.

Ringrose hasn’t featured for Ireland since the summer and only returned for Leinster at the end of February in their 64-7 win over Southern Kings in the Guinness Pro14.

Utility back Andrew Conway remains on the sidelines with a knee injury with uncapped Leinster wing Barry Daly in the squad as cover.

Space for Carbery?

Leinster’s Joey Carbery has had a limited role during the NatWest 6 Nations to date and revealed recently he’s been training at inside centre in a bid to get more minutes.

Carbery offers Schmidt excellent variety from the bench, available to step in at fly-half or full-back in addition to his, as yet untested, position in the 12 jersey.

Jonathan Sexton, who nailed that drop goal against the French, and Rob Kearney have both shone in the Ireland backline to date meaning opportunities have been limited for Carbery.

Of Carbery’s eight Ireland caps to date, only twice has he earned a starting spot.