DUBLIN (Reuters) - Lock Tadhg Beirne will make his Six Nations debut as one of three Ireland changes in their bid to upset Wales’ Grand Slam hopes on Saturday and end the Six Nations on a high that could even include a championship title.
After a stuttering start, defending champions Ireland need to win in Cardiff and hope injury-hit Scotland avoid defeat by England at Twickenham, where they have not won in 36 years, to complete their outside shot at retaining the championship.
With one eye on the World Cup, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt is just focussing on the performance and named flanker Sean O’Brien as the other change in the pack from Sunday’s win over France that saw the world’s second-ranked side recover some form.
O’Brien replaces injured number seven Josh van der Flier while Beirne gets his chance after Iain Henderson was ruled out with a knee injury. Rob Kearney will also start after a knock forced him out of the France game at the last moment.
“It’s one of those things where you’d love to go two weeks in a row with the same team,” Schmidt, who like his opposite number Warren Gatland will take charge of his final Six Nations game as coach, told a news conference.
“We haven’t really been afforded that luxury so it’s just a case of slotting people in but as I’ve said all through the Six Nations, it’s been a really positive challenge for us to try to mix and match players and still try to get some cohesion.”
The 27-year-old Beirne made a name for himself as an athletic, all-round second row in a two-year spell with Welsh club Scarlets before returning home to Ireland with Munster this season.
His versatility in being able to play at flanker could make him a valuable addition to Schmidt’s already hugely competitive World Cup squad.
With Wales unchanged after winning their last 13 games on the trot, Schmidt cited the championship leaders’ home form as a big challenge having lost both of his previous Six Nations games in Cardiff.
“In both games, they were incredibly fine margins. Both times, I felt we played reasonably well but they’re incredibly good at slowing the ball down once you get into their danger zone,” Schmidt said.
“It is difficult to score against them, particularly at home. Obviously last year (in Dublin) we managed to score five tries but they do grow another leg in the Principality Stadium and that’s going to be a challenge for us.”
15-Rob Kearney, 14-Keith Earls, 13-Garry Ringrose, 12-Bundee Aki, 11-Jacob Stockdale, 10-Jonathan Sexton, 9-Conor Murray, 8-CJ Stander, 7-Sean O’Brien, 6-Peter O’Mahony, 5-James Ryan, 4-Tadhg Beirne, 3-Tadhg Furlong, 2-Rory Best (captain), 1-Cian Healy
Replacements: 16-Niall Scannell, 17-Dave Kilcoyne, 18-Andrew Porter, 19-Quinn Roux, 20-Jack Conan, 21-Kieran Marmion, 22-Jack Carty, 23-Jordan Larmour.
Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Catherine Evans and Toby Davis