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Stockdale, Aki And Ryan Handed Six Nations Debuts

Stockdale, Aki And Ryan Handed Six Nations Debuts

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has included three NatWest 6 Nations debutants – Jacob Stockdale, Bundee Aki and James Ryan – in his team for Saturday’s opening clash with France in Paris (kick-off 5.45pm local time/4.45pm Irish time).

The selected Ireland XV shows three changes to the side that defeated Argentina in the final game of November’s GUINNESS Series, with Keith Earls and Robbie Henshaw returning to the back-line and Josh van der Flier replacing the injured Sean O’Brien at openside flanker.

Rory Best captains his country for the 22nd time, flanked in the front row by Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong who wins his 20th cap. The 21-year-old James Ryan will make his Six Nations debut and only his second start, linking up again with Iain Henderson in a youthful second row.

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Van der Flier comes in for his first Six Nations start since the early rounds of 2016 Championship. He joins the Munster duo of Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander in a newly-formed back row.

Earls and Henshaw slot back in on the right wing and at outside centre respectively, determined to transfer their impressive form in Europe onto the international stage, with the latter reuniting in midfield with his former Connacht team-mate Bundee Aki, another of the tournament’s exciting newcomers.

Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray will steer the ship from half-back, with almost 130 Ireland caps between them, while powerful Ulster winger Jacob Stockdale (21) will make his Six Nations bow in the back-three alongside the equally electric Earls and full-back Rob Kearney, who is set for his 75th start for Ireland.

Sean Cronin returns to the matchday 23 after missing out on the November internationals, and there is also a recall for Fergus McFadden who is in line for his first Test appearance since March 2016. Joey Carbery has recovered from a fractured wrist and is poised for his Six Nations bow off the bench, while it could be a second Championship appearance for flanker Dan Leavy.

Reflecting on the team selection, Joe Schmidt said: “We felt James (Ryan) went really well recently against Montpelier who are a big side, and we’re really looking forward to seeing what he delivers on Saturday.

“We want to be able to keep building in that position (of second row), it’s a position we probably don’t have huge depth in. We’ve got a few young guys pushing through that we’ve given opportunities to and James is obviously one of those.

“(Bundee and Jacob) are really excited too about getting the opportunity to play in the Six Nations. I don’t think there’s a better place to be than in between Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw if you’re making your debut in the Six Nations.

“And having Keith and Rob working with him in that back-three triangle, I think it’s a great position for Jacob to be in as well. That’s kinda part of the balance. A lot of people speak in terms of World Cups and sacrificing opportunity or risking results in the Six Nations – I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. I think you can be working as hard as you can in the Six Nations and still that’s good preparation for whatever comes next year or beyond.”

He added: “I had a good chat with Jordan (Larmour), he was very close to making the replacements bench. It’s a really competitive area for us. The back-three, we’ve gone for a mix of youth and experience in Jacob, Keith and Rob, and I think that’s probably a pretty good balance for us. We also have the experience of Fergus McFadden who is also a pretty accomplished goal-kicker too.

Andrew Conway is managing a knee that was a little bit inflamed, for a period of time. It looked like it was going to be okay. He’s probably going to be out for this week and next week as a result of that. It’s certainly nothing serious, we just need to let it settle down and he’ll springboard back into things.”

IRELAND Team & Replacements (v France, 2018 NatWest 6 Nations Championship, Stade de France, Saturday, February 3, kick-off 5.45pm local time/4.45pm Irish time):

Player/Club/Province/Caps –

15. Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster) 78
14. Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) 62
13. Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster) 31
12. Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht) 2
11. Jacob Stockdale (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 4
10. Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 68
9. Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster) 59
1. Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 73
2. Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) (capt) 106
3. Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster) 19
4. Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 34
5. James Ryan (UCD/Leinster) 4
6. Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster) 42
7. Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster) 9
8. CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster) 18


16. Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 56
17. Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) 42
18. John Ryan (Cork Constitution/Munster) 11
19. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 53
20. Dan Leavy (UCD/Leinster) 4
21. Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster) 6
22. Joey Carbery (Clontarf/Leinster) 6
23. Fergus McFadden (Old Belvedere/Leinster) 32