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Ringrose and Ryan injuries open door to daring possibilities in Ireland XV

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This will be a big call for Andy Farrell.

First off, the bad news. Ireland have to face England on Saturday without two players that stand a good chance of making the British & Irish Lions squad.

Garry Ringrose (ankle) and James Ryan (concussion) will miss Saturday’s Six Nations clash with the outgoing champions while Munster captain Peter O’Mahony is back in the squad after his three-game suspension was completed. An IRFU release reads:

‘James Ryan will be unavailable for the weekend following his removal for a HIA and his return to play will be managed by Leinster. Garry Ringrose has been ruled out of the England game with an ankle injury and will be further assessed by the Ireland and Leinster medical teams.’

The news is not altogether unexpected as Farrell did flag the Ringrose ankle injury while confirming that Ryan would have to follow the Return To Play protocols. As the game is six days out, and his second concussion of the championship, the sensible option was taken to remove the lock from the fray.

Already, there are calls for Ireland head coach Andy Farrell to stick with the balanced back row of Tadhg Beirne, Will Connors and CJ Stander for the England game. Tadhg Beirne started the championship in the second row but shifted to blindside after O’Mahony was red-carded against Wales.

Keeping Beirne in the back row would mean a start for either Ryan Baird or Ultan Dillane in the second row, alongside Iain Henderson. Baird has made impacts off the bench in his two Test outings and was praised by both Jamie Heaslip and former England captain on the BBC after Ireland’s win over Scotland.

As much as a Baird elevation into the starting team would excite fans, we suspect Farrell will restore O’Mahony to the back row and put Beirne back with Henderson. Last Wednesday, Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell called O’Mahony ‘one of the best lineout jumpers in the Six Nations’ and that has been one area of the Irish game that has been strong.

For all of Baird’s obvious talents, he has yet to prove his Test mettle at set-pieces. Going up against the likes of Maro Itoje and Charlie Ewels would be a big test for him. O’Connell also noted, last December, how Baird still needed to bulk up his frame for Test rugby.

Paul O’Connell believes Ryan Baird is Test quality, but still wants him with more timber on his frame.  (Credit: Sportsfile)

The other big call is in midfield and is presented by that damaging loss of Ringrose, who was good in Ireland’s opening three games but off the boil against Scotland.

Again, an option exciting several Irish rugby supporters is keeping Robbie Henshaw at inside centre, where he has excelled, and going for Chris Farrell in the 13 jersey. Ulster fans will be hoping this means a Stuart McCloskey start, but Farrell has followed Joe Schmidt in giving him crumbs to feed off.

Do not be surprised, though, if Farrell calls Bundee Aki as the next cab off the ranks. The Connacht centre has not had a stellar run of it at Test level, of late, but Andy Farrell may well look upon him as the safest pair of hands to step in and do what is asked of him.

This Ireland side are not playing expansive rugby and their defence has often been waxy, so Aki provides the option with the least risk. If he does come in, Henshaw would move to 13.

Despite Ireland’s two wins over Italy and Scotland, Farrell is still under pressure and the fear of failure may well override the temptation of going for broke.

Chris Farrell and Ryan Baird would be seen as the more daring options while O’Mahony and Aki are of the been-there, done-that variety. We may soon see the power of the IRFU central contracts in action.

The team selection, on Thursday morning, will tell us a lot about Farrell’s mind-set heading into this weekend’s game. He could prove us wrong, but expect him to play it safe.


 

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