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scotland v ireland If Andy Farrell picks his team on form, then why are two of our best front row players on the bench?

KilCoyne and Kelleher should be starting but Irish can still edge this


Ronan Kelleher is the best hooker in Ireland.

Ronan Kelleher is the best hooker in Ireland.

Ronan Kelleher is the best hooker in Ireland.

Irish coach Andy Farrell and his management group have taken huge risks with their selection for the Six Nations match against Scotland at Murrayfield this afternoon.

The mantra is that the national team is picked on form.

Well if it is, how are two of our Rome front-rowers, including Ronan Kelleher, starting this match on the bench?

David Kilcoyne was incredible against the Italians last month.

He made tackle after tackle and carried the ball really well.

Until he had to go off because of a knock ten minutes into the second half, he was in Man-of-the-Match territory.

And it has to be said that Andy and his back-room team are the only people I know in Irish rugby right now who don't believe that Ronan Kelleher is the best hooker we have.


Rob Herring (left) has been in poor form while David Kilcoyne was on fire in Rome.

Rob Herring (left) has been in poor form while David Kilcoyne was on fire in Rome.

Rob Herring (left) has been in poor form while David Kilcoyne was on fire in Rome.

Yet the pair have been dropped for today's match for Cian Healy and Rob Herring respectively.

I believe I know why Herring was chosen.

We are going to have to win the line-out battle this afternoon.

In James Ryan, Iain Henderson, Tadhg Beirne and CJ Stander we have four jumpers who can help us do that - and the coach may feel that Herring is the best thrower to get the ball to them.

However, in both his starts against Wales and France, Herring was nigh on invisible in terms of making tackles and carries with the ball.

We were basically carrying a forward less, and with Peter O'Mahony sent off in Cardiff, we were carrying two forwards less that day in terms of physicality around the pitch.

Contrast that to Kelleher's all-action effort when starting against Italy and when coming on as sub in the other games.

I don't understand it. It doesn't say a lot to any player trying to get on this Irish rugby team that two players who did so well the last day are now dropped.

If we don't win this game, the failure to start either of them will feature large in the debrief.

Ditto too with Keith Earls. Regular readers of this column will know that I bow to no man in my admiration of the Moyross flyer.

But Keith had a bad match against Wales and could not have complained if he had been dropped for the French game.

Yet the winger wasn't - and was one of Ireland's better lads against France in Dublin - and then he was dropped for the Italy match.

Now, against Scotland, he comes back with Jordan Larmour left out of the team and Jacob Stockdale not even among the subs despite playing well for Ulster against Leinster last week.

Again, there's no continuity of selection with players having bad matches surviving in the team and players who do well being dropped.

Craig Casey is another example of the latter. He is the future of Irish scrum-half play, but Jamison Gibson-Park is retained to start in the position and the experienced, and fit again, Conor Murray is on the bench.

It all speaks to the ongoing desire of the IRFU to win our Six Nations games no matter what else.

Andy Farrell has to take note of that, blooding players for years down the line is not part of his remit during these five matches in the spring.

His job is to win them - and having lost the first two of the five, Andy may believe that experience is better than inexperience, no matter how talented or gifted the latter might be.

While Casey has been dropped, I'm glad to see that our top emerging forward talent, Ryan Baird, hasn't.

He will probably be further eased into Test rugby by playing the last 20 minutes at Murrayfield.

If this season is to be marked down as in any way a successful one, we have to win this match and then carry forward the effort against England later in the week.

Scotland, because their game against France was called off, have been sitting idle for more than a month.

Having beaten England in their opener, the Jocks would probably have beaten Wales but for Zander Fagerson's sending off.

They'll be stewing over that outcome, knowing that they could, maybe should, be playing for a Triple Crown today.

There's a massive sub-plot to this game and that is Lions selection.


Wales' Ken Owens is tackled by Italy's Johan Meyer (left) during the match in Rome.

Wales' Ken Owens is tackled by Italy's Johan Meyer (left) during the match in Rome.

Wales' Ken Owens is tackled by Italy's Johan Meyer (left) during the match in Rome.

Wales have won the Triple Crown, and their ex-coach Warren Gatland is the Lions coach.

So you know there are going to be plenty of Taffs in the touring party.

Gatland will also pick plenty of physical England players for the battles against the Springboks.

Which leaves Scotland and Ireland battling for a dozen places in the Lions squad between us.

If the group was being picked this morning, Garry Ringrose, Tadhg Furlong and Ryan would be the only Irish players guaranteed to be in.

And if the team for the First Test in Johannesburg, if the game is ever played there, was being picked now, only Furlong would be chosen.

So it is easy to see what is at stake for Hugo Keenan, Robbie Henshaw, Johnny Sexton, Murray, Henderson, Beirne and Stander against Scotland.

They are the next Irishmen in line and have got to do a number on their direct opponents in this game.

And then back it up with a big show against England next Saturday in the Aviva.

Otherwise they will have no cause for complaint if they miss out on the once-in-every-four-years chance to be a Lion.

Thirty years ago, it used to be said in an Irish dressing-room that 'lads, today it is about who wants it more'.

Well, times have changed in international rugby but do you know that's where this match will be won and lost - in desire.

The game will define the season for both Scotland and Ireland.

The home team will come at Ireland with their usual ferociousness and their renowned ability at the breakdown. We have to be ready for it.

This match could come down to a yellow or red card being shown by French referee Romain Poite.

We've got to be ready for a battle, but be disciplined in the battle. Ireland to win - narrowly.

  • Scotland v Ireland, Six Nations, today, 3.0pm, Live on Virgin and BBC1

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