The Ireland Rugby Union team (Team Of Us) are back in the national sporting media spotlight again. New head coach, new optimism. The squad selection for the upcoming Six Nations tournament has yielded surprises. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the winners, the losers and the expected game plan ahead of the tournament kickoff.
The main headline is that Johnny Sexton becomes new captain, replacing retired Rory Best. A solid selection. His leadership skills are not in question. However, will Sexton have the longevity to be around for the Rugby World in 2023? A new four-year cycle needs leadership stability.
The uncapped players coming into the squad are from Leinster Rugby and Ulster Rugby. It is reward for standout performances this season for their provinces. Billy Burns and Tom O’Toole will look to impress in training sessions and could get game time against Italy potentially. Max Deegan, Caelan Doris and Ronan Kelleher could be thrust in sooner truth be told given their impressive cameos for Leinster Rugby this season. Kelleher is ready for the hooker position personally.
Chris Farrell. The Racing 92 fixture last weekend exposed Farrell. A marauding Vakatawa made significant gain lines and Farrell struggled all ends up. With the emergence of Stuart McCloskey, I thought Farrell would be omitted but Andy Farrell has shown faith with a player who can deliver performances in the Ireland jersey. The pressure is on for the Tyrone native to deliver with McCloskey breathing down his neck.
Devin Toner. The Leinster Rugby lock was omitted from the Rugby World Cup, a move which sparked controversy in sporting media platforms and supporters alike. Toner and his line out calling came back to haunt Ireland in Japan. Toner’s form with Leinster Rugby has being strong this season, an opportunity to reestablish himself as a test match operator with James Ryan struggling for fitness.
Dave Kearney: His performances for Leinster Rugby have thoroughly merited his squad inclusion. His attacking play on point. The question remains on his defensive reads at test match level?
Niall Scannell and Jean Kleyn: I am putting these players together. The Munster Rugby line out has struggled at key stages this season. Andy Farrell demands set piece excellence and the two players get squeezed out of this squad due to these issues with the province particularly in European Cup fixture action. Both face uphill tasks to get back into the squad given recent performances with discipline and unforced errors probably cited to both players on areas of improvement.
Rhys Ruddock: Given the performances of Doris and Deegan, Ruddock loses out. Rhys Ruddock has provided physicality and work rate this season. A player who will get game time in the championship as back row options will go down with injury. It is inevitable. Good news for Leinster Rugby as an experienced back is available for Pro14 selection.
Jack Carty: A key omission. Carty has had a slow start to the Connacht Rugby season having to sit and wait for his game minutes. With Conor Fitzgerald sidelined, it is now the opportunity for Carty to get game time to impress. His Japanese World Cup displays were fine but were not spectacular. Andy Farrell looking at his ten jersey options and the Roscommon native is not part of his plans initially. When you consider Joey Carbery will return to the squad fold, it looks bleak for Carty unless he can deliver scintillating form.
The squad selection is interesting. Farrell has given youth a big chance and hopefully he bloods new players to the test team in this tournament. I am excited to see the game plan; looking for quick ruck ball and for three quarters to attack space with pace and power. The offload game will be something that Andy Farrell revels in; his playing career saw him excel in this facet of play and the kick game is something that he will look for his half backs to deliver with precision. Game management, game smarts was Andy Farrell as a player. This should not change with the transition to head coach. Farrell has shown ruthlessness in his squad selection today. Players need to deliver or else. All setup for a fascinating tournament for Ireland this season!
Starting Ireland Lineup: Hawkeye Sidekick XV
7. van der Flier