The 6 Nations returns this weekend with Ireland facing Italy in the Aviva Stadium in a game that was originally to be played in early March but that game was postponed owing to the global health crisis that has overtaken the world in 2020.
Andy Farrell has two games to finish this campaign, finishing next Saturday week in Paris on Super Saturday to finish the 2020 Championship well that is the plan currently but as we have seen things can change very quickly.
Farrell will then keep his squad together for the Autumn Nations Cup where they will play Wales, England and Georgia before hopefully make it through to the knock out phase of that competition.
Andy Farrell this afternoon selected a 23 with a number of uncapped men named like Ed Byrne and Hugo Keenan who have made the most of things since rugby restarted and have now earned the chance to make their debuts, Keenan from the start and Byrne from the bench.
Many have questioned the exclusion of Josh Van Der Flier from the 23 this weekend but I think the squad named to face Italy is one that is specifically named to take on Italy, Van Der Flier will come back into contention for the French game and by extension the Nations Cup.
Ireland are blessed to have many quality back rows in the 4 provinces, Both Caelan Doris and Will Connors would have started back in March and there form has been solid since the resumption of rugby.
It will be interesting to see what sort of game Ireland try and play this weekend, will they go out and attack Italy from the opening minute or will it be a more controlled in what they hope to do !!
The pack is full of running and raw power, they have mobility in the 2nd row with Tadgh Beirne alongside James Ryan add to that the qualities of messers Connors and Doris and we may see a game plan filled with pace and power…
The back line is along familiar lines with Sexton and Murray paired at 9 and 10 with Jamison Gibson Park and Ross Byrne on the bench to be sprung in the 2nd half.
Gibson Park will make his debut if he gets onto the field of play and his performance will be watched carefully given the Luke Mc Grath and John Cooney aren’t involved. Cooney wasn’t selected and Mc Grath has been pipped by Gibson Park. Bundee Aki and Gary Ringrose continue at 12 and 13 with Robbie Henshaw on the bench in the number 23 shirt.
The Ireland squad has many options in the centre and back three with Hugo Keenan given are real chance to shine on the wing rather than the full back slot where he broke into the Leinster team.
Keenan of course is a man who has played 7s for Ireland in recent seasons with the likes of Shane Daly both men now of course are heavily involved in their respective Provincial sides in the last while.
It is nice to see a pathway back to the 15s game for players who have been involved in the 7s programme that was restored as a way to keep players in the system if things don’t initially work out in the 15s game while also keeping the 7s programme strong.
It’s been good to have club rugby back since August but the return of the international game to Dublin will also be another small step forward…. Kick off Saturday is 3.30pm