With Joe Schmidt hinting at a 17/14 split between forwards and backs in his final World Cup squad, there may only be room on the plane for one back-up fly-half to Johnny Sexton. So Jackson needs to rubber-stamp his strong end-of-season form to get an early edge over rival Ian Madigan, who is on the replacements bench today. After an injury hit year, Ulsterman Jackson has not played in green since the 2014 Six Nations and needs a big game to state his case.
Finally emerging from a hellish spell on the sidelines with a serious toe injury, the Munster lock makes his first Ireland appearance in 27 months today needing to impress alongside Iain Henderson, who seems assured of at least the lock/No.6 spot Schmidt likes on his Test bench, if not a starting berth. With Paul O’Connell, Devin Toner and Henderson all but set fixtures, Ryan needs to nail down that final lock berth to see off Dan Tuohy, who is waiting in line on the bench.
The openside flanker is in a similar position to Munster pack-mate Ryan in terms of the numbers game and in possibly the most competitive area of the team, the back row. Fellow number 7 Chris Henry is on the bench while Jordi Murphy also played there as well as No.8.O’Donnell has to hit the ground running after missing end of season with a hamstring.
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