Johnny Sexton’s facial injury has healed, so he will lead Ireland from fly-half, but Tadhg Furlong won’t be able to play in Saturday’s Six Nations opener against Wales in Cardiff.
Furlong hasn’t played since December because of injuries to his ankle, hamstring, and calf, but he had hoped to play against Wales. Finlay Bealham, who beats out Tom O’Toole, takes his place on the team.
“Finlay deserves it,” said Andy Farrell, the coach of Ireland, on Thursday. “He’s doing a great job. The last time Connacht played Newcastle Falcons in the Challenge Cup, he scored three tries.”
Furlong should be back for Ireland’s important second game against France on Feb. 11 in Dublin. Sexton had surgery on his cheekbone, but now he is ready to play with scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park.
In the middle of the field, Stuart McCloskey and Garry Ringrose continue to work together. Mack Hansen and James Lowe are on the wings, and Hugo Keenan is at fullback.
Bealham and another prop, Andrew Porter, will be in the front row of the scrum, with hooker Dan Sheehan in the middle.
The lock pair is Tadhg Beirne and James Ryan, and Caelan Doris is at number eight. Josh van der Flier and Peter O’Mahony are on either side of the field. Farrell said that the roof at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium will be shut for the game.
“We wanted it to be closed so we could get a feel for the place and move on with our trip. There is no other atmosphere like it when the roof is closed. It is a great stadium “he said.
The coach also didn’t agree with his opponent, Warren Gatland, who said this was a “free shot” for Wales because they were big underdogs against the top-ranked Irish.
“In test rugby, there is no free shot. After the game, I might buy him a free shot said.
Ireland has won five of the last six tests against Wales, but their last trip to Cardiff in 2021 ended in a 21-16 loss.