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Dublin: 14 °C Saturday 20 September, 2014

Open thread: What Ireland side should start the 6 Nations?

Declan Kidney will have big decisions to make next February.

Irish players line up for the singing of the anthems.
Irish players line up for the singing of the anthems.
Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

IRISH RUGBY SUPPORTERS have been truly energised on three occasions this year – Tommy Bowe v France, All Blacks pushed close in Christchurch, and 55 glorious minutes at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.

As Bowe crossed for his team’s seventh try against a stunned Argentina, the prospect of two 50-plus scores in the space of a week was a genuine possibility.

Ireland were warmly applauded off, by fans and magnanimous Argentinean players, at the final whistle and ranking worries were a world away.

The Six Nations awaits in 2013 as does a British & Irish Lions tour to Australia next summer or, as Brian O’Driscoll calls it, ‘the cherry’.

With O’Driscoll, Sean O’Brien, Rob Kearney, Rory Best and Paul O’Connell all in line for recalls next spring, many will be wondering what Ireland’s best team will be.

That is where we need your help.

Rather than asking for preferred players one to 15, we are asking you to give your opinion on the best combinations to take on Wales at the Millennium Stadium and gain revenge for Mike Phillips’ grand larceny in 2011.

Front row

Michael Bent seems to be a good signing by Leinster and should provide Mike Ross with provincial competition, and well-earned rest. David Kilcoyne was the back-up prop for Cian Healy and Sean Cronin did superbly against Fiji. The bone of selectorial tension here comes when Rory Best returns. Will he be able to shift Richardt Strauss as first-choice hooker? Best two options:

  • Healy-Strauss-Ross
  • Healy-Best-Ross

Second row

The loss of Paul O’Connell seemed insurmountable three weeks ago but Mike McCarthy’s man-of-the-match performance against South Africa offered solace. Iain Henderson featured in the three November games as back row cover but he is a talented lock. Dan Tuohy will be keen for another chance but Donncha O’Callaghan’s days look numbered. Donnacha Ryan has cemented his position.

  • Ryan-O’Connell
  • Ryan-McCarthy

Back row

This department suffered the biggest blows before the series began. Sean O’Brien, who returned to league action with Leinster on Friday, was ruled out well in advance but Stephen Ferris’ ankle injury meant his reluctant withdrawal.

Jamie Heaslip applauds the Irish fans. (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)

Peter O’Mahony looked more at home at blindside flanker for Ireland, Jamie Heaslip was yellow carded against the Boks but performed well otherwise and Chris Henry evoked memories of David Wallace at seven. With Iain Henderson playing well for Ulster, six players are vying for three spots.

  • Ferris-O’Brien-Heaslip
  • O’Brien-Henry-Heaslip

Half backs

Despite the positive senior outing for Paddy Jackson against Fiji and Ronan O’Gara’s assertions that he will not be retiring any time soon, Jonathan Sexton is the undoubted choice at 10. Conor Murray’s higher tempo and smarter kicking against the Pumas keeps him in pole position as scrum-half but Eoin Reddan is a slick operator and Paul Marshall must not be ignored for much longer if he continues to excel at Ulster.

  • Murray-Sexton
  • Reddan-Sexton

Wingers

Bowe had a lock on the right wing position even before he crossed for two tries against Argentina. Craig Gilroy is the man in possession of the left wing position but the return of O’Driscoll may shunt Keith Earls out wide. Simon Zebo was another Irish positive this month and will be eager for a wing role if Rob Kearney returns to full fitness.

  • Gilroy-Bowe
  • Earls-Bowe

Centres

O’Driscoll was enjoying his umpteenth lease of life early in the season before injury ruled him out of another series of games. A Six Nations push – perhaps without the captaincy burden – is on the cards and Gordon D’Arcy will feel he has done enough to retain the 12 jersey.

Luke Marshall crosses for a try against Fiji. (©INPHO/Morgan Treacy)

Darren Cave will be bitterly disappointed not to get a sub’s role yesterday after a fine showing against Fiji while Luke Marshall can put real pressure on D’Arcy with a good run of Pro12 and Heineken Cup games. Should Declan Kidney stick with Earls at outside centre too?

  • D’Arcy-O’Driscoll.
  • Marshall-O’Driscoll

Fullback

As last season’s European Player of the Year, Kearney should slot straight back in at fullback. Simon Zebo has provided a viable option in the role and Felix Jones will only be better for

  • Kearney
  • Zebo

*Let us know what you think of the combinations and who should captain Ireland against Wales.

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