Autumn Nations Series | Team prediction for Ireland’s season opener against Japan

IRISH Rugby head coach Andy Farrell revealed his squad for the test series just under two weeks ago and here is the team that I think he will run out against Japan this weekend.

Japan visit the Aviva stadium this Saturday in a bid to get their first win over Ireland since their quarter final win at the 2019 World Cup. Irish head coach Andy Farrell described the clash as “the type of test that we want” and with the 2023 World Cup just under two years away, Farrell can leave no stone unturned in the time remaining.

As apart of the build-up to this exciting international season opener, I am going to pick a potential 23-man squad that Farrell could very well select to face Japan this coming Saturday. I will also explain my selections, and omissions, as all Irish fans begin to size up the challenge the Japanese will bring.

It hasn’t been long since Ireland faced Japan, with the 2019 World Cup hosts visiting the Aviva stadium last July as apart of the 2021 Summer Series. This game still being fresh in the memory of Farrell can only be an advantage for Ireland as they attempt to get revenge for the embarrassment suffered in Shizuoka over two years ago.

10 July 2021; Ireland players, from left, Robert Baloucoune, Fineen Wycherley, Gavin Coombes and Craig Casey before the International Rugby Friendly match between Ireland and USA at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

The scrum will be a point of interest for Farrell, when Ireland hosted Japan in July a big talking point was the size and strength of the Japanese pack. Japan’s 899kg got the better of Ireland’s 873kgs when it came to scrum time, resulting in a few too many penalties conceded by the Irish and making the game difficult for home side overall.

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In response, I’ve selected a beefy front row of Dave Kilcoyne, Ronan Kelleher and Tom O’Toole. Farrell is likely to select a similar line up to the one seen in July, but I do see Farrell giving O’Toole his second ever Irish cap in a bid to stabilise the scrum while giving the newcomer some valuable international experience.

1 – Dave Kilcoyne

2 – Ronan Kelleher

3 – Tom O’Toole

Tadhg Beirne returns to the squad as a second-row rather than his more common form as back-row. Beirne was unavailable for Ireland’s last clash with Japan due to being involved in Warren Gatland’s Lions squad, yet the Munster forward hasn’t played much rugby since the tour concluded. I see Farrell starting Beirne so he can shake off the cobwebs, as well as add to Ireland’s attack.

James Ryan captained Ireland in their last encounter with Japan and he is likely to do the same on Saturday, Ryan was left out of Gatland’s Lions squad but he is central in Ireland’s scrum and line-out. Ryan will want to restart his international career as soon as possible and Farrell will need an experienced leader to keep those on the pitch focused.

4 – Tadhg Beirne

5 – James Ryan

3 July 2021; Gavin Coombes of Ireland following the International Rugby Friendly match between Ireland and Japan at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Speaking of experience, Farrell may return Peter O’Mahony to the blindside position as the cork man made an impact in the same jersey against the same opposition last July. Similarly Josh Van Der Flier’s exceptional form for Leinster in recent weeks could also see his return to the number seven shirt.

Farrell has no shortage of back-rows, but starting Gavin Coombes would give the young number eight invaluable test match experience at a point during a world cup cycle where player development is paramount. Caelan Dorris is also pipped to start but has had a sparse involvement with Leinster in the URC due to head injury.

6 – Peter O’Mahony

7 – Josh Van Der Flier

8 – Gavin Combes

Carbery appears to be the clear choice for the out-half role, with young-gun Harry Byrne awaiting to replace. Not only does Carbery deserve international minutes but it’s his pairing with fellow Munster Half-back Craig Casey that I believe will yield the best results.

Carbery and Casey have gelled quite well at Munster over the past few games and it’s beginning to look like they’re a package deal. However, Jamison Gibson-Park and Carbery found tremendous rhythm against Japan in July so the Leinster out-half’s involvement either off the bench or starting is also likely.

9 – Craig Casey

10 – Joey Carbery

3 July 2021; Joey Carbery of Ireland during the International Rugby Friendly match between Ireland and Japan at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Farrell is no stranger to throwing some curve balls, and I feel like selecting Ciaran Frawley to start isn’t out of the realm of possibility come Saturday.

Farrell might trow Frawley in the deep end but only if he trains well thorough the week, Farrell is also also likely to pair Frawley with fellow Leinster centre Garry Ringrose, who hasn’t played international rugby since he suffered a shoulder injury during last season’s Six Nations.

12 – Ciaran Frawley

13 – Garry Ringrose

Saturday could very well be the day we see Simon Zebo return to international rugby, despite the obvious caveats about Zebo’s age and lengthy hiatus from international rugby, the 11 jersey is one position that has stumped Farrell in his last few outings and perhaps Zebo is the answer.

If I am correct and Farrell does select Zebo, he will likely be paired with the predictable pairing of Jordan Larmour on the opposite wing and Hugo Keenan at fullback.

Robert Baloucoune’s sub-par form with Ulster during the opening rounds of the URC could deny him a starting job, however the winger’s undeniable flair and talent will guarantee his involvement throughout the series.

11 – Simon Zebo

14 – Jordan Larmour

15 – Hugo Keenan


16 – Rob Herring, 17 – Dan Sheehan, 18 – Finlay Bealham, 19 – Ryan Baird, 20 – Caelan Dorris, 21 – Jameson Gibson-Park, 22 – Harry Byrne, 23 – Robert Baloucoune.

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