Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has announced his initial Ireland RBS 6 Nations squad who will assemble and prepare for the opening fixture against France. Few surprises in squad selection truth be told with the inclusion of Jordan Larmour as well as recalls for the likes of Sean Cronin, Rory Scannell and Fergus McFadden for good measure. Hawkeye Sidekick runs the rule over the squad and half-back selections are interesting.
A strong forward squad has being selected for the start of the tournament. The front row looks quite potent in the prop positions with Furlong, Healy, McGrath, Kilcoyne, Porter, Ryan in the ranks. All players are playing well for their provinces. Furlong is certain to start but it remains to be seen how Schmidt viewed the suspension of Cian Healy against Exeter Chiefs. Healy was back to excellent form for Leinster Rugby and his disciplinary issue has opened the door to Jack McGrath who has produced standout performances as well. 50/50 call for the other prop position. The rest of the players realistically are looking at cameos off the bench provided no injuries surface before then. An area of weakness in the past for Ireland is now a key strength; the scrum set piece will be conceivably a primary platform for Ireland to attack from.
I am delighted to see Sean Cronin back in the international squad. The Limerick man has excelled for Leinster Rugby this season with several standout performances. His ball carrying ability was never an issue but a spat of injuries last season curtailed progress. However, the player has worked extremely hard to get back to form and this is reward for that.
Rob Herring from Ulster has being solid this season; very consistent performer in the set piece. However, Rory Best is the hooker for the start of the tournament, leading the side out in Paris. His form against La Rochelle last weekend was a timely reminder to everyone of his qualities. His ability to compete in the breakdown was to the core. The set piece was efficiently run. James Tracy potentially will feel a bit disappointed but with Cronin with Ireland, it is a chance to reestablish himself in the Leinster Rugby side and play quality minutes. Another player who has massive upside.
Five players selected for this unit. Henderson will start against France. His high tempo work rate and set piece execution to the fore. The Ulster second row has slowly picked up his form in recent weeks and his understanding with Best will be key to create a platform from the lineout. The partner for Henderson is a different story.
Ultan Dillane, James Ryan and Devin Toner all provide key strengths for first team inclusion. Toner’s experience, his line-out ability is superb, ball carrying has improved but question marks remain on his ability to compete in the breakdown. Dillane had a frustrating season last year, injuries and form issues did not help his cause but the Kerry man is playing well for Connacht Rugby this season. His ball carrying, speed and work rate to the fore. James Ryan is the dark horse for first team inclusion. The key point for Ryan is to establish himself as a consistent Leinster Rugby first team starter.
Ryan has all the traits to become a world class lock but it is too soon to throw him in against France on the road. With Tadhg Beirne returning back to Ireland next season, realistically it is an opportunity for the players selected to cement their squad places. Quinn Roux personally looks vulnerable and his disciplinary record in recent weeks does not bode well for the player long term with Schmidt. No complaints on the Beirne omission right now. Schmidt has laid out the policy for national team selection and Beirne does not fit the criteria right now while playing out of Ireland.
Immense competition for starting spots beckon in this division. The Leinster contingent have played superbly this season. Leavy and van der Flier have being immense in recent weeks with their Guinness Pro 14 performances. Jordi Murphy’s form is strong at this time and has softened the blow of Rhys Ruddock’s absence for club and country. Jack Conan comes into the squad as well, has shown well for club this season. The Munster contingent of O’Mahony, Stander provide leadership, work rate and breakdown know how. It is going to be fascinating to see who Schmidt goes with for the first game of the tournament. O’Brien’s absence is a blow but there is sufficient cover to offset the loss against France. No complaints on this unit and guys on the outside need to perform to higher levels to get into the national team shakeup.
The key talking point was the omission of John Cooney from the squad. His form for Ulster Rugby this season has being a standout for the province in game management and kicking game.
Marmion gets the nod to impress again but the Connacht player needs to provide more decisive game management if given an opportunity to impress. His Autumn International against Fiji was a mixed bag and really has opened the door for other players to potentially come into the reckoning.
Hugely impressed by Luke McGrath this season; his maturity and game management has being excellent this season for Leinster Rugby and hopefully we will some good quality international test matches for the player in this tournament. Murray will start against France. His game is so good right now, form scrum-half for me in recent seasons.
Interesting squad selection as backup to Sexton who will start against France provided no injury concerns. Carbery is included even though injured since the Fijian international fixture.
Ian Keatley has being a shining light for Munster Rugby this season and gets the nod deservedly but you also have Rory Scannell here who can deputize at ten if need be.
Scannell played ten for Munster Rugby a couple of seasons ago; his kick game from twelve is a potent weapon for Munster Rugby. Given Carbery’s lack of game minutes in recent weeks, Keatley is the understudy to start off this tournament.
Carbery may be asked to go back and play games for the province during the RBS 6N tournament to establish form and sharpness. A player of massive upside and potential. A key squad player for the 2019 RWC.
No genuine complaints here on the back line selection. Zebo has made his decision to leave for France and with a World Cup looming, Schmidt needs continuity in the squad. The key inclusion is Jordan Larmour; the youngster is an exceptional talent and I think personally it would be wrong to throw in against France in Paris. The player has enormous attacking ability; his ability to create line breaks was seen against Munster and Ulster this season.
A key fixture beckons for Larmour this weekend in ERC action. A road trip to Montpellier and a chance to test his defensive qualities against the Goliath Nadolo on the wing. Sweetnam did as well as he could against the towering winger in international duty last year and Larmour’s defensive qualities need to be tested and this would be an excellent assessment on this facet of play.
An exceptional player already and one who will feature for the country before the end of the tournament. Sweetnam’s lack of game minutes for Munster Rugby and that Fijian performance defensively may be reasons for his omission; he will focus on returning to provincial action to reestablish his form.
Earls form has being outstanding; his cameo against Racing 92 sensational. McFadden has his critics but his upturn in form has seen the player back in the national setup, versatility also a plus for inclusion.
Conway like Earls is enjoying a superb season. His versatility a key reason for his inclusion, can fill wing and full back slots and expect game time for the player in this tournament.
Stockdale for me has being the find of the season for Ireland; his ability to create meters with ball in hand and his finishing qualities make him a standout wing option for this tournament. Stockdale and Earls potentially get the nod but there is stiff competition for places in the unit.
Bundee Aki will start against France. His form in the Autumn International series was superb; his ball carrying and defensive work on point. The key question is who will partner the player for this tournament due to the absence of Gary Ringrose.
Henshaw has shown well for Leinster Rugby this season, his experience looks like a key reason for his inclusion to partner Aki. Chris Farrell’s development for the national team will be keenly noted; he has massive physicality, passing game and his line break speed is excellent.
Rory Scannell provides good cover at twelve and his kicking game as mentioned is a key asset for any side. It remains to be seen if Earls or McFadden will be considered for three quarters duty but their record is there for everyone to analyze.
Ringrose is a loss; his creativity and ball carrying are a perfect foil for Aki but they will have their chance in the Summer tour potentially if Ringrose does not make back in time for this tournament. McCloskey will be disappointed.
Such is the form of Leinster Rugby’s whizz kid Jordan Larmour at full back this season, Rob Kearney is under pressure to keep onto his full back starting jersey. Kearney has being in excellent form as well and is a great problem to have for club and country. I sense Kearney will get the nod at full back for the opening fixture but there could be opportunity for Larmour to potentially get game time later in the tourney (dare I say Italian match). Conway provides excellent cover in the position as well as Carbery. The position is stacked with quality. People will call out Zebo but in terms of the Schmidt game plan, these players are best equipped to execute the game plan to the letter of the law.