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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Michael Scully

Roman revolution: Ross Byrne primed for first Six Nations start for Ireland

Ross Byrne is on standby to start for Ireland in Rome - and another positive performance could rubber-stamp his place at the World Cup finals.

Joey Carbery's recall to Ireland's squad yesterday grabbed the headlines after his shock omission from the initial squad for the championship - and his absence for the first two wins over Wales and France.

But, as the 37-strong squad met up yesterday for training, the news that skipper Johnny Sexton is still recovering from the groin injury he suffered against France means that Byrne is in line to make his first start at Test level since the Autumn Nations Cup defeat to England on November 21, 2020.

In fact, Byrne's only two starts in 16 appearances for Ireland were against England - the previous one coming in the 2019 World Cup warm-up, also a Twickenham defeat.

By his own admission, the 27-year-old is an improved player from a few years ago and he could get the opportunity to showcase that at the Stadio Olimpico this weekend.

Speaking after the France game, Farrell said that the window for making changes for Italy wasn't there as Ireland seek to take a third step towards a Grand Slam.

That is a change from previous years under Farrell and under Joe Schmidt and Declan Kidney.

Not for the first time, best laid plans may have to be adjusted - in fairness to Farrell, he has calmly dealt with previous injury enforced personnel changes.

Injury may now rob him of his captain and talisman and, if that is the case, then Farrell will embrace the chance to give Byrne only his third Test start and his first in the Six Nations.

Playing well for the final 32 minutes against France, and for the final 12 minutes against Wales, is the perfect preparation for this weekend for the Dubliner.

The Leinster no 10 was recently asked if he felt ready to step up if required.

"I can't control the experience of Test rugby that I've had," Byrne replied. "So there's no point in me worrying about the lack of experience I've had.

"The only thing I can control is my own performance and my own preparation - so that's the only thing I focus on."

If the scenario arises, Byrne will be partnered at half-back by Conor Murray as Jamison Gibson-Park (hamstring), along with centre Robbie Henshaw (wrist) and Tadhg Furlong (calf), is not yet ready to return.

By omitting Carbery prior to the championship, Farrell was laying down a challenge to the Munster out-half to prove him wrong.

Given his Test level experience, Farrell may be tempted to put Carbery on the bench in Rome ahead of his provincial team-mate Jack Crowley if Sexton doesn't make it.

Alternatively, Crowley could get his chance to shine at some stage in the fixture after making his first start in the November win against Australia.

Peter O'Mahony, who has signed a one-year contract extension with the IRFU to stay with Munster until the end of the 2023-24 campaign, is favourite to take over the captaincy in Rome.

Rob Herring, who started against France, is still going through return to play protocols after Uini Atonio's high hit on the hooker but Dan Sheehan makes a timely return from a hamstring injury having missed the 32-19 triumph.

Keith Earls is another absentee - the veteran winger has suffered a calf injury - while rising lock Joe McCarthy is out of the remainder of the championship with an ankle issue.

With Tadhg Beirne already ruled out for 10 to 12 weeks following ankle surgery in recent days, Ulster second row Kieran Treadwell is recalled after his last involvement came in the Autumn series.

Iain Henderson is primed to start in Beirne's place as James Ryan's second row partner, with Ryan Baird promoted to the matchday squad as cover.

Leinster's prolific try scoring flanker Scott Penny has been added as back row cover.

Ireland squad

Backs: B Aki, C Blade, R Byrne, J Carbery, C Casey, M Hansen, H Keenan, J Larmour, J Lowe, S McCloskey, C Murray, J O'Brien, J Osborne, G Ringrose, J Sexton, J Stockdale.

Forwards: R Baird, F Bealham, J Conan, G Coombes, C Doris, C Healy, I Henderson, R Herring, R Kelleher, D Kilcoyne, P O'Mahony, T O'Toole, S Penny, A Porter, C Prendergast, J Ryan, R Salanoa, D Sheehan, K Treadwell, J van der Flier.


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