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O'Brien set for rare start

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O'Brien poised for first Six Nations start in two years as Stander ruled out until March

Sean O’Brien is poised to make his first Six Nations start for Ireland in two years after CJ Stander was ruled out of action with a facial injury that will sideline him until the closing rounds of the championship in March.  

O’Brien replaced Stander with 17 minutes remaining in last Saturday’s 32-20 home defeat to England and is now set to come into the starting back row to face Scotland at Murrayfield in round two next weekend.

Not since the March 2017 win over the England in Dublin has O’Brien been a Six Nations starter for Joe Schmidt, but Ireland struggled for ball-carrying momentum in their opening round loss to the English and will look to the soon-to-be 32-year-old to make his presence felt in Edinburgh.

The Leinster forward made 29 metres off his five carries during the closing stages of the rare Lansdowne Road defeat, compared to Stander’s 42 metres off 11 carries before his injury-enforced departure.  

Injuries have been the bane of O’Brien’s life in recent seasons as he has started just three of Ireland’s last 16 matches. However, he is now ready to benefit from Stander’s lay-off which will likely keep the Munster back row out until the round four match versus France on March 10.

Stander isn’t Ireland’s only injury concern after their brutal bullying episode at the hands of the English. 

Keith Earls, who was withdrawn at the interval, will have his training load managed in the early part of this week following his hip pointer injury. Devin Toner is dealing with an ankle problem while Garry Ringrose has reported some hamstring tightness.

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The restoration of the Bundee Aki-Robbie Henshaw midfield partnership would be the obvious move for Schmidt to make if Ringrose pulls up lame, a rejig that would allow Rob Kearney return at full-back and end Henshaw’s brief occupation of the No15 jersey which came in for much scrutiny following England’s win.  

However, Ireland’s second row options are less plentiful due to the Champions Cup injuries suffered by Iain Henderson (finger) and Tadhg Beirne (knee). Connacht’s Quinn Roux was the engine room bench man against the English.

Meanwhile, Andrew Conway hasn’t checked in at Ireland camp this week, instead staying at Munster top sort of a tight calf that materialised at national squad training last Thursday.   

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O'Brien poised for first Six Nations start in two years as Stander ruled out until March