Ireland put their dreams of a third-ever Grand Slam on the line on Saturday when they welcome an in-form Scotland to the Aviva Stadium.
Joe Schmidt’s side have never lost at home in the Championship since the Kiwi took charge and he welcomes back two familiar faces for the Scotland clash.
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Three from three, more than halfway to a Grand Slam, Ireland have it all to play for and here’s what we learned from their team selection. RINGROSE RETURNS Garry Ringrose started every single game of last year’s Championship for Ireland as they became the first team to defeat Eddie Jones’ England.
But shoulder and ankle injuries have hindered his progress this season for Leinster and Ireland – the centre missed the entirety of the autumn campaign.
But with injuries to both Robbie Henshaw and Chris Farrell this Championship already, the cupboard is bare at No.13 for Ireland.
And that means that Ringrose – who has only played six games this entire season – is back in midfield and will play outside Bundee Aki for the first time this season.
“Garry has been extraordinary when he was played for us, he has done an incredible job,” said Schmidt.
“Last summer against Japan he was one of the standouts for us and we are hoping he can hit the ground running and get straight back to that form.” TADHG’S TICKING British & Irish Lions prop Tadhg Furlong missed out last time out against Wales as a precaution following his hamstring injury against Italy in round two.
But the tighthead is now back fit and firing and comes back into the No.3 jersey for the visit of Scotland.
That means that young Andrew Porter, so impressive in Furlong’s absence, has to settle for a spot on the bench.
But when you have a man of the all-round talents of Furlong – both in the tight and the loose – back to his best, he has to be one of the first names on the teamsheet. IAIN’S BEEN LOCKED OUT Another British & Irish Lion who missed out against Wales with injury was Iain Henderson after an injury in victory over Italy.
But the second row was – like Furlong – back in full training this week in preparation for the visit of Scotland.
However, Schmidt has kept faith with the Leinster duo of James Ryan and Devin Toner in the second row and Henderson has to settle for a spot on the bench.
That decision shows just how much faith Schmidt now has in young James Ryan who only broke through for Leinster this season but with Henderson to add impact from the bench, Schmidt’s lock department now looks very strong. BENCH BALLAST In addition to Henderson, Schmidt has also given bench spots to Jordan Larmour and Jordi Murphy.
Larmour – back three cover against Italy in round two – missed out against Wales as Fergus McFadded returned but gets the nod in round four.
You only need to watch Larmour’s cameo against the Azzurri in the second half to see he has serious attacking talent.
His defensive instincts were slightly exposed in the second half however and it will be interesting to see how Schmidt opts to use the youngster – considering he can cover centre, wing and full-back.
“Larmour can play 13 and Earls can shift into there as well. Carbery can be at 12 or Ringrose can move in if Aki went out,” added Schmidt.
“That would be the matrix at the moment, inevitably you do planning around that, players are aware of their responsibilities should they need to move.
“It depends on how the match is going and then you make the decision. hopefully that’s a tactical decision we make not an injury-based one.”
Murphy’s inclusion as back-row cover is an interesting one as Jack Conan misses out to his Leinster teammate.
Murphy has been pulling up trees for Leinster in recent weeks, started the win over New Zealand in Chicago 18 months ago and deserves his chance. SEXTON’S STILL ON SONG Jonathan Sexton’s goalkicking against Wales left something to be desired – the fly-half left ten points out on the pitch with two penalties and two conversions that he missed.
But Schmidt is not worried in the slightest about his playmaker – who has looked back to his best with ball in hand this Championship.
“I’m super confident, I think he’s a world class kicker, I would have no hesitation about him making any decision on any kick he’s going to have,” he said.
“He still ran the game really well. It’s an aspect of his game, there’s a number of aspects that are generally positive for us.”
Last year Scotland ambushed Ireland at BT Murrayfield in the first 20 minutes, but there will be no such repeat this time around says Rob Kearney who starts at full-back.
“We have reviewed quite a bit of what happened last year and the manner of those first 20 minutes and the damage that they did to us,” he said.
“We need to make sure we put our stamp on the game as opposed to having to chase it.”