Robbie Henshaw will play at full back in Ireland’s opening match of the Six Nations Championship against England on Saturday evening.
An unusual choice given that he has not played in the position for a quite some time.
|Cian Healy||1||Mako Vunipola|
|Rory Best (Captain)||2||Jamie George|
|Tadhg Furlong||3||Kyle Sinckler|
|Devin Toner||4||Maro Itoje|
|James Ryan||5||George Kruis|
|Peter O’Mahony||6||Mark Wilson|
|Josh van der Flier||7||Tom Curry|
|CJ Stander||8||Billy Vunipola|
|Conor Murray||9||Ben Youngs|
|Johnny Sexton||10||Owen Farrell|
|Jacob Stockdale||11||Jack Nowell|
|Bundee Aki||12||Henry Slade|
|Garry Ringrose||13||Manu Tuilagi|
|Keith Earls||14||Jonny May|
|Robbie Henshaw||15||Elliot Daly|
|Sean Cronin||16||Luke Cowan-Dickie|
|Dave Kilcoyne||17||Ellis Genge|
|Andrew Porter||18||Harry Williams|
|Quinn Roux||19||Joe Launchbury|
|Seán O’Brien||20||Nathan Hughes|
|John Cooney||21||Dan Robson|
|Joey Carbery||22||George Ford|
|Jordan Larmour||23||Chris Ashton|
This is a strong England team that is coming to Dublin, and one that is full of confidence. They don’t fear us, despite losing convincingly last year. A year is a long time, and Ireland cannot afford to rest on their laurels.
The first game of the season is often Ireland’s worst. The amazing drive that ended our first game last year in Paris, which culminated in Johnny Sexton’s drop goal to win the match, is what we remember, but Ireland did not get into the game until nearly too late.
The French dominated the break down, putting the Irish off their game. The match statistics showed Ireland made no clean line breaks. We had an amazing escape last year. Will Joe’s preparation be better this year?
Has moving the Six Nations forward a week caused these issues? We have a congested Christmas derby series closely followed by the closing European pool games. This mean that there is not a lot of time to get players back into the international systems in time for the first match.
All countries have the same issues; Ireland are not the only team to start the tournament slowly. The trick is to try to keep some continuity from the November series, along with some momentum.
Both teams playing in the Aviva tomorrow had a solid November, Ireland achieving a first home victory over the All Blacks; but England came close to beating that same team, with a few marginal TMO calls the difference.
They come here as confident as ever. They are likely to try to bully us physically. I feel the ruck area is going to be the key to the game. Stealing ball or winning penalties at the breakdown will gain the beneficiary points or all important territory.
The Irish back row will be busy tomorrow, so I expect them to get help from the likes of Bundee Aki and the second row when needed. It’s nice to be able to call on Sean O’Brien, who is on the bench.
The centre match-up is intriguing. Henshaw’s selection at full back leaves Aki in place. He was the glue that kept the defensive line intact during the November series and it would have been harsh to him left out.
Having rarely witnessed Henshaw in the full back role, I don’t know what to expect. He knows the position, and has experience, but his lack of time there in recent years has got to be a risk.
I like the move, but I want Ireland to win the World Cup. This selection might help us to that goal by giving us an option there. It means an extra forward can tour in Japan, as we will have the requisite cover for full back.
It’s risky if we want to retain the Championship, however, so I think that Joe is making a gamble. I applaud him for the choice, it’s brave and foresighted. It came later than planned — Joe suggested that they had wanted to try it last June during the tour of Australia but injuries and circumstances turned against it – but better late than never.
Will it be the cost us the match? No, I don’t think so. At least not directly. Playing Larmour or Conway at full back would be the sensible, conservative call. I don’t think the winning of tomorrow’s match is going to come from full, not in what is likely to be a tight, forward-dominated affair.
Expect tempers to heat up. The weather is going to be cold, but there is no love lost between these two groups of players that have dominated the trophies in recent years, both in Europe and in this tournament.