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Tony Ward: Paddy Jackson would be a banker choice for me

By Tony Ward

Published 29/08/2015

Last chance saloon: Paddy Jackson has a lot to prove before Joe Schmidt names his World Cup squad
Last chance saloon: Paddy Jackson has a lot to prove before Joe Schmidt names his World Cup squad

All the right things have been said but today the real rugby finally gets under way. What transpired in Cardiff and at the Aviva against the Scots was relevant, but only to a point.

With the visit of a very different Welsh side to the team we faced in the Millennium Stadium three weeks ago marks the build-up to the tournament beginning in earnest.

And with the 31-man Irish World Cup squad set to be announced imminently, today's clash at Lansdowne Road is the last chance saloon for a lot of players.

Joe Schmidt says that some of the players on provincial duty this weekend could still make it while others in Ireland's match-day 23 might not make the cut - and I don't doubt him

As I see it, there are five players teetering on the brink.

Dave Kilcoyne's chances hinge on Cian Healy's neck. If Healy is deemed fit enough to come on board when the Pool matches get under way, he and Leinster colleague Jack McGrath are set in stone as the travelling specialist looseheads.

Once Richardt Strauss gets another run under his belt, he will join Sean Cronin and Rory Best among the three hookers set to be selected.

Other teams are gambling with just two hookers. That is their call. It is madness.

The front-row contingent will then be completed by tighthead duo Mike Ross (enjoying a rare break from match-day duty today) and Nathan White, on the back of a late run up the inside lane, leaving Michael Bent in the role of dual prop given his proven ability to pack down on either side.

Tadhg Furlong is likely to make his Ireland debut off the bench in place of White some time after the hour mark today. Any involvement will stand him in good stead going forward, and with Marty Moore a growing doubt, Wexford man Furlong could well establish himself as next in line behind Ross and White.

Of the other replacements, Felix Jones and Paddy Jackson appear to have most to prove and will be champing at the bit to get an opportunity to impress

To me, Jackson should be a banker as replacement out-half, starting if Johnny Sexton is ever ruled out.

However, when Sexton plays, Ian Madigan should be on the bench ahead of Jackson, covering all three midfield positions.

Such is Madigan's versatility - although I don't buy nonsense being peddled of late that he could cover scrum-half as well - he could easily end up playing more games than any other Irish player at the World Cup.

There was a ludicrous case made that because Madigan had filled in effectively at scrum-half for Leinster during a sin-bin period (in other words for 10 minutes) in a Pro12 match, he should be nailed on as Ireland's third-choice No 9. Rubbish.

There is no comparison with Australia's Matt Giteau, who has played in both half-back positions plus centre at Super Rugby and international level. His return means the Wallabies can get away with just two specialist nines with no worries at all.

Of course it would be great if the ultra-versatile Madigan could fulfil that role, as it would enable Schmidt to select another three-quarter in his squad. I get the rationale, but it is certainly not a risk worth taking.

So it's a straight call between Isaac Boss and Kieron Marmion for the third scrum-half slot, with the Leinster man, though out of sorts against the Scots, still leading the way.

Full-back Jones, I feel, needs to do something special - Simon Zebo's tour de force against the Scots has put him in pole position.

Aside from White, the other seven forwards starting today will all make the departure lounge comfortably, with Iain Henderson, in particular, given a golden opportunity to make a case for a starting berth.

Our premier combination comes together at half-back for the first time since Murrayfield back in March. Neither Sexton or Conor Murray has anything to prove but their service and general play could have a huge impact on the selection hopes of Dave Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald and Keith Earls.

Here I don't envy the head coach at all. With Andrew Trimble, Tommy Bowe and Jared Payne also in the frame (I would pick all three) the dilemma is obvious.

One looks set to lose out and I suspect that could be Kearney the younger.

Belfast Telegraph

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