THIS AFTERNOON ANTHONY Foley and Neil Doak will name the starting line-up for Saturday’s Ireland Wolfhounds game against England Saxons.
The ‘A’ fixture is sadly a standalone match, but a week out from the start of the Six Nations, it will give several players a chance to prove their value to Joe Schmidt.
Here are five players who probably are not currently in Schmidt’s preferred XV, but could have a shot of working their way in.
With Sean O’Brien’s unfortunate injury Ireland’s number seven jersey has come up for grabs.
A powerful carrier as well as an effective influence on the floor, Tommy O’Donnell provides Schmidt an opportunity to replace like with like on the openside. However, with Chris Henry fresh from helping Ulster go unbeaten through the Heineken Cup pool stage, the more experienced candidate looks the best bet to start when Scotland visit Lansdowne Road.
O’Donnell missed out on the November campaign through injury, but had a solid start to international life on last summer’s tour of North America and looked well and truly back to his best as Munster closed the deal in securing a home quarter-final.
The young Ulster star was another denied a chance to impress Schmidt early on due to injury. Whether playing at lock or as a blindside, the 21-year-old has shown his ability as a powerful ball carrier with excellent footwork – a combination that makes him extremely difficult to put down.
That skill-set along with the ability to ability to play in two lines of the pack make him an ideal weapon to keep on the replacements bench, and if anything should happen Paul O’Connell, Devin Toner or Peter O’Mahony (they being the men in possession after impressing v New Zealand) he’ll be first in line to take over.
The man they call ‘Killer’ has found his international stock wane in the past 12 months. Declan Kidney’s second choice this time last year, Kilcoyne was left in the back-up role even when Cian Healy suffered injury as Tom Court frog-leaped into the side.
The form of Jack McGrath this season has been sensational, and it’s difficult to see a loosehead from outside Leinster making the matchday squad against Scotland. That said, a top drawer performance against some burly English props just might force a re-think.
Sure, Jamie Heaslip is an immovable object in the Ireland number eight jersey, but O’Brien’s injury has the knock-on effect of withdrawing serious competition and cover for the Toulon target.
Step forward Robin Copeland. The number eight’s form has been steadily on the up since he joined Cardiff Blues and committing himself to Munster next season has clearly done his international prospects no harm whatsoever. A Wolfhounds ‘cap’ is the perfect environment for him to prove his credentials in green.
Keith Earls’ misfortune was his Munster team-mates gain this week as the Lions tourist earned a recall despite limited game-time since returning from injury.
The form of Luke Fitzgerald looks likely to sway Schmidt’s thinking on the number 11, but in any case, Zebo needs game-time so a Wolfhounds run makes perfect sense.
Having run from fullback for Ireland in the past, Zebo’s turn of pace and all-round star quality would make him an exciting option in a number 23 shirt if Schmidt resists the urge to start the Corkman.