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Ireland Unchanged For Friday Night Showdown With Wales

Ireland Unchanged For Friday Night Showdown With Wales

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has announced the team to play Wales in Friday’s RBS 6 Nations match at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff (kick-off 8.05pm).

The Ireland management have backed the side that saw off France 19-9 a fortnight ago to deliver another winning performance in the Welsh capital. It is the first time Joe Schmidt has named an unchanged team since rounds 2 and 3 of the 2014 Six Nations.

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Number 8 Jamie Heaslip will become only the sixth Irish player to play 100 international matches when he lines out on Friday night. This will be the Naas man’s 95th cap for Ireland and he has also made five Test appearances for the Lions.

Heaslip is joined in the back row again by Sean O’Brien and CJ Stander, who turned in a man-of-the-match performance on his debut against Wales last year. Donnacha Ryan and Devin Toner, with 90 caps between them, continue together in the second row.

Hooker Rory Best is hoping to lead Ireland to a tenth win in his 18th Test as captain, flanked by props Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong. The Wexford-born tighthead made his Championship bow off the bench against Wales 13 months ago.

Half-backs Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray, who were hugely influential against the French, will be looking to continue where they left off the last day. Sexton is on the cusp of scoring the 600th point of his Ireland career, while Murray – the man-of-the-match in round 3 – has notched four tries in his last eight Six Nations outings.

The other back-line combinations remain untouched with centres Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw making it an all-Leinster 10-12-13 axis with Sexton, while Rob Kearney anchors a back-three that contains the speed and spark of wingers Keith Earls and Simon Zebo.

There is one change to the matchday 23 with the 68-times capped Tommy Bowe returning to take the bench spot vacated by his injured Ulster colleague Andrew Trimble (hand).

Commenting on the competition for places between the backs, head coach Schmidt said: “Tommy has trained really well. He’s trained the house down. His last couple of games for Ulster have been incrementally improving and some of the things we’ve asked of him, we’ve seen.

“It’s tough because Craig Gilroy has also been doing really well and so has Andrew Conway. But I think in the context of what Wales will bring, Tommy is so strong in the air and his experience, having played with a lot of these players in his time with the Ospreys, it was probably a good decision in this context.

Jared Payne was sharp this afternoon, or this morning when he trained. That put him in the frame but he just hadn’t had enough time with us. He’ll potentially be involved at the weekend with Ulster (against Zebre) and it could potentially still be a springboard for him to be involved in the England game next week.

“Robbie and Garry, I think, have a really good relationship and we’re building on that. So sometimes selection might be swayed because of the cohesion of the current combination. Jared’s experience, potentially even off the bench would have been handy, because he plays full-back and has played wing, as well as the midfield.

“There are things where he has contributed hugely in the past, but you’ve got to keep your rhythm in this competition. You’ve got to keep improving. We’ve got combinations we do feel are improving and we want to give them the opportunity.”

IRELAND Team & Replacements (v Wales, 2017 RBS 6 Nations Championship, Principality Stadium, Friday, March 10, kick-off 8.05pm):

Player/Club/Province/Caps –
15. Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster) 75
14. Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) 57
13. Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster) 6
12. Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster) 27
11. Simon Zebo (Cork Constitution/Munster) 31
10. Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 64
9. Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster) 56
1. Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 39
2. Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) (capt) 102
3. Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster) 14
4. Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster) 45
5. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 45
6. CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster) 13
7. Sean O’Brien (UCD/Leinster) 47
8. Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster) (vice-capt) 94


16. Niall Scannell (Dolphin/Munster) 2
17. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 65
18. John Ryan (Cork Constitution/Munster) 4
19. Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 30
20. Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster) 38
21. Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht) 10
22. Paddy Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster) 22
23. Tommy Bowe (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster) 68