Wednesday 22 January 2014

Warmup or Trials?

Joe Schmidt has two options for his Wolfhounds team to face England Saxons on Saturday. With a number of first team contenders returning from injury, will they get match time, or will young edge of squad players finally be looked at?

The biggest area of concern will be on the wing, and with Tommy Bowe out until England at least, and Earls probably out there is a need for players to get some match fitness in. Both Gilroy and Zebo weren't included in the original 42 man squad before they "proved" fitness, and they may get the nod for Saturday, although neither Fitzgerald or Trimble were involved last November either, so to suggest that they are straight into the squad for the 6 Nations could be seen as strange. McFadden also hasn't played since November and is a Schmidt favourite, but with Marshall and D'Arcy the only 12s in the squad, Schmidt could use McFadden's versatility to get as many match fit options out wide as possible.

There will also be a battle between Henshaw and Cave for the back up spot behind O'Driscoll. Whoever wins this audition is likely to see some time this championship as the great one is preserved for the bigger challenges.

Ian Madigan hasn't started since the start of the month, and since Jackson kicked on after November, Madigan is probably 3rd choice, although he could see some time in coming weeks too. Ian Keatley is dragging himself back in contention, but may have to settle for a place on the bench to make sure Madigan is fit and firing.

This may end up being a moot point once we find out about Marmion's citing, but given the traditional strength of the Saxons, Schmidt may want a competitive edge to this Wolfhounds squad, and may pair Madigan with his provincial partner in Isaac Boss, leaving Marmion to wait to be locked into the Irish national team.

This combination thoughts are continued in the pack, with an all Munster front row, and an all Ulster second row. Schmidt may go with Herring at hooker to pair up with Tuohy and Henderson. With only 3 looseheads in the squad, Kilcoyne is a clear favourite to start here, with McGrath probably being saved to back up his club mate Healy.

Second row will be a tight battle between Toner and McCarthy, with the loser coming off the bench here, and probably on the bench in future 6 nations game now that Donnacha Ryan has been further sidelined.

The back row will be interesting. Will Schmidt go with a straight audition between O'Donnell and Henry for the final openside spot? Will Jordi Murphy be deservedly rewarded with a Wolfhounds cap? Diack, Ruddock and Copeland are having great seasons and could see an opportunity here to go for a bench spot in the 6 Nations.

Whatever the case, it's clear that the Wolfhounds has many benefits for Ireland, it's just a pity that there is only one game yet again.

Likely 23:
15. Jones
14. Gilroy
13. Henshaw
12. McFadden
11. Zebo
10. Madigan
9. Boss
1. Kilcoyne
2. Varley
3. Archer
4. Henderson
5. Tuohy
6. Ruddock
7. Murphy
8. Copeland

16. Herring
17. McGrath
18. Moore
19. McCarthy
20. Diack
21. Marmion
22. Keatley
23. Cave

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