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Projected Starters Series: Ireland

Projected Starters Series: Ireland

James Ryan Ireland

Andy Farrell’s Ireland are going into the Autumn Nations Series riding high on a wave of confidence from an historic summer.

After becoming only the fifth team to win a series on New Zealand soil, a strong showing back home in November will cement their world-best credentials.

And with world champions South Africa first to test themselves at the Aviva Stadium, Farrell will be eager for his charges to continue their fine form.

Tests against Fiji and Australia follow – but who is likely to feature in the Ireland starting XV?
Front Row

Andrew Porter and Tadhg Furlong will be expected to flank Dan Sheehan after the trio started all three Tests down under.

Farrell v Argentina

The Leinster teammates were formidable in the scrum against the All Blacks and at least two of the three started every match of the 2022 Guinness Six Nations.

Tighthead Furlong, who is back in contention for Leinster this week, is a powerful runner and his surprisingly adept distribution sets him apart as one of the world’s best props.

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After Ronan Kelleher was ruled out with a long-term shoulder injury in Round 2 of the Six Nations, Sheehan emphatically stepped up to the plate.

The 24-year-old is now in an almighty battle with his recently recovered Leinster teammate for the No.2 jersey for club and country, but four tries against Benetton last Friday will have helped his cause significantly.

Sheehan has Andrew Porter to thank for driving Leinster’s dominant maul for three of his scores, and Porter has thrived since switching from tighthead to loosehead.

His phenomenal strength is world renowned, reportedly capable of squatting 350kg, or more than four Jamison Gibson-Parks.

Second Row

Packing down behind them will surely be James Ryan and Tadhg Beirne – arguably the best second-row partnership in the world.

The pair lined up against New Zealand’s Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock in the summer and passed the test with flying colours.

Munster’s Beirne in particular was sensational in the final stages of the third Test decider to ensure the tourists came away with an unforgettable win.

And Ryan was back to his best against the Kiwis, after suffering a series of concussions in the past few seasons, calling the lineout expertly and limiting the All Blacks to a 75% success rate on their own throws in the final Test.

Back Row

Completing the pack are another three stars who lined up in every match in New Zealand: flankers Peter O’Mahony and Josh van der Flier, with Caelan Doris at No. 8.

EPCR European Player of the Year van der Flier will be one of Farrell’s first names on the teamsheet after a series of world-beating displays for Ireland this year.

The Leinster flanker played every minute of his country’s Triple Crown triumph and has a crucial role to play in the November Tests.

Joining him on the other flank will most likely be Peter O’Mahony, with the 33-year-old Munster captain even coming out with some credit from their sole loss in Auckland.

Doris, meanwhile, was named Player of the Series in last year’s Autumn Nations Series and is set to light up the Aviva in November after storming the Guinness Six Nations and summer tour in 2022.

Half-Backs

Johnny Sexton

Jamison Gibson-Park has tough competition for the scrum-half position in Conor Murray, but having started all every match in the Six Nations and tour of New Zealand, there is little doubt over his place this autumn.

The metronomic half-back’s Player of the Match display in the win over England in March typified everything the 30-year-old represents: rapid service, safe hands and razor-sharp decision-making.

And at stand-off, Johnny Sexton continues to defy the aging process and remains a crucial performer for Farrell.

Munster’s Joey Carbery is an able deputy though, and should expect to feature to alleviate Sexton’s workload as he looks to manage his minutes before one last hurrah at the 2023 World Cup.

Centres

Bundee Aki celebrates after scoring a try

There is a bit more uncertainty in Farrell’s midfield, with Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki fighting to claim the two spots.

Ringrose and Henshaw are likely to win the race, with the Leinster pair starting the first two Tests against the All Blacks.

Aki is the standout star for club side Connacht but his discipline record worsened at the weekend after seeing red for a dangerous cleanout on Stormers winger Seabelo Senatla.

It was the third time the centre has been sent off in his career and depending on his ban, he may be ruled out of the first Test against South Africa.

Back Three

There are more selection dilemmas for Farrell at wing and full-back, with James Lowe and Hugo Keenan facing a race against time to be fit for the clash with the Springboks in early November.

The Leinster duo have been sidelined with calf and knee injuries respectively for close to three weeks and are now major doubts.

One player who’s sure to start is Connacht’s Mack Hansen, who has enjoyed a remarkable 12 months since his move from Australia.

The winger scored six tries in nine matches for his new club, before making his debut against Wales in Ireland’s opening 2022 Six Nations game.

He scooped the Player of the Match gong that day, before going viral with his scarcely-believable score seven seconds after the restart against France the following week.

Michael Lowry is likely to fill in for Keenan after crossing twice on his international bow against Italy in February.

And Andrew Conway may replace Lowe, although Robert Baloucoune could be in with a shout if he continues his fine form for Ulster.

Predicted XV:

15 Michael Lowry
14 Mack Hansen
13 Garry Ringrose
12 Robbie Henshaw
11 Andrew Conway
10 Johnny Sexton
9 Jamison Gibson-Park
1 Andrew Porter
2 Dan Sheehan
3 Tadhg Furlong
4 Tadhg Beirne
5 James Ryan
6 Peter O’Mahony
7 Josh van der Flier
8 Caelan Doris

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