The case for Andrew Conway at full-back for World Cup opener against Scotland

It would appear that Rob Kearney will have to sit out the opening match of the World Cup against Scotland on Sunday to nurse a calf injury back to full working order.

The decision to take one specialist full-back to the World Cup was understandable and only open to inquisition should Kearney come undone.

Presuming Kearney’s calf won’t be risked, the selection would appear to come down to a straight choice between Andrew Conway and Jordan Larmour to step up given the likelihood Robbie Henshaw will also be sidelined by injury.       

There isn’t a player who has worked harder for longer to get where he is than Conway.

It is a rare occurrence to witness the transformation of ‘the next big thing’ from a one-on-one Leinster wizard to that of the quintessential Munster all-rounder.

Conway has had to peel back the layers of his game and rebuild it from the ground up.  

He has married the gifts to the grind, placed greater emphasis on the fundamentals of back-three play to such an extent that his fielding, not his footwork, is now the standout element to his game. 

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The decision between Larmour and Conway is all about the here and now, not who is better, but who is showing better form.

The 28-year-old moved from outsider-to-insider in the race to Japan, making a strong enough impression on Joe Schmidt to start against Italy, for an hour, and Wales, for the full 80, in the Principality Stadium.

In between, there was a thankless task of 26 minutes in that rout in Twickenham.  

All the while, 22-year-old Larmour has been groomed as Kearney’s back-up, based on four starts at full-back in the last ten months. 

For the record, Conway has started just twice for Ireland at full-back, against Japan in June 2017 and Fiji later that year in November, eleven caps ago.

However, the correct assumption is that Ireland need to close down Scotland more than they need to open up themselves.

This has even more merit in Yokohama where the heat and humidity will lead to a strain on endurance, more liable to produce a slip in tackles completed or a slip in concentration. 

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has built a brand of fast, fluent, open rugby based on his growth at Glasgow Warriors.

The last thing Ireland need to do is get involved in a shootout that will play right into the hands of those maverick, attacking backs Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg. 

It would be prudent to prepare to bully the Scots at the set-piece and keep the ball for as long as it takes to frustrate them.

Conway has gathered enough experience and grown the basics of the game to keep Ireland’s house in order as the last man back.

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