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Battle for Irish squad places nears it peak

AS D-Day for squad selection creeps closer, Joe Schmidt names a starting fifteen close to full strength for Saturday’s last home game of the World Cup warm-ups. Apart from the outside centre, two in the front-row and one in the second row, most of the ‘already booked’ placers will be showing their skills against the Welsh in the Aviva Stadium as Ireland try to make it three wins out of three outings over the last four Saturdays.
This game is where the build-up for RWC really hots up. The Welsh will be smarting from their 21-35 home hammering by the boys in green on August 8 and they too have named a decent side. From our Limerick clubs’ point of view, there will be big interest in the performances of Conor Murray, Paul O’Connell, Keith Earls, Felix Jones, Donnacha Ryan and Dave Kilcoyne (the latter trio on the bench) and there is justifiable confidence that all five will see their names on the squad list when the final 31 is pinned up on the door.
For other hopefuls, this Saturday is their last chance saloon. Luke Fitzgerald needs a ‘blinder’ to get back into contention after a less than impressive game against the Scots and now that Andrew Trimble is back again in rude health, that 14 jersey is being dragged to bits at present by at least three contenders, one being Dave Kearney. The ‘certs’ remain: Rob Kearney, Rob Henshaw, Jonathan Sexton, Keith Earls, Conor Murray, Eoin Reddan, Paddy Jackson, Peter O’Mahony, Jamie Heaslip, Jordi Murphy, Richardt Strauss, Sean Cronin, Donnacha Ryan, Chris Henry, Ian Henderson, Paul O’Connell, Sean O’Brien, Jack McGrath. Added to that some of those left out against Wales this Saturday, such as Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Rory Best, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Michael Bent and Simon Zebo would be justified in also making premature travel arrangements which would leave six hard decisions to be made by Schmidt over the next two weeks. With no regular full-back in the squad, apart from Rob Kearney, Felix Jones is hotly tipped to make the cut while Dave Kilcoyne’s performance against Scotland has certainly put one of his sizeable tootsies in the final selection.
Ireland: Rob Kearney; Dave Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald, Robbie Henshaw, Keith Earls; Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Jack McGrath, Richardt Strauss, Nathan White; Iain Henderson, Paul O’Connell (captain), Peter O’Mahony, Jordi Murphy, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, David Kilcoyne, Tadhg Furlong, Donnacha Ryan, Sean O’Brien, Eoin Reddan, Paddy Jackson, Felix Jones. Saturday’s game kick-s off in the Aviva at 2.30 with highlights on RTE from 8pm that night.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon), Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), Scott Williams (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Harlequins), George North (Northampton Saints), Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Rhys Webb (Ospreys), Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs), Bradley Davies (Wasps), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys, capt), Dan Lydiate (Ospreys), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Taulupe Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons).
Replacements: Scott Baldwin (Ospreys), Paul James (Ospreys), Aaron Jarvis (Ospreys), Luke Charteris (Racing Metro), James King (Ospreys), Gareth Davies (Scarlets), Rhys Priestland (Scarlets), Hallam Amos (Newport Gwent Dragons).

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