If anyone was looking for sensational sports headlines today, it probably was not coming from the Irish Rugby Union November squad selection. A consistent selection with one new face added to the camp. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the squad selection and his hopes after this set of November test match fixtures.
No Murray as expected as Addison is included
The key talking points from this squad selection is the absence of Conor Murray and the inclusion of Will Addison to the camp. Murray’s absence is hardly surprising to anyone who has followed this season so far. Murray continues to rehab on an injury (yet to be disclosed) and the expectation is that the Limerick native will be back come the end of this calendar year.
Will Addison’s inclusion is reward for a prominent start with Ulster Rugby. His versatility to slot into multiple back line positions evident this season; started the campaign at full back with impressive ball carrying statistics. In recent weeks, Addison has switched to the center and was prominent in the opening Ulster Rugby try last weekend at Racing 92; a superb line break and pass to David Shanahan. Addison should get game time and it will be interesting to see the defensive side of his game; he was exposed on more than one occasion against a rampant Racing 92 outfit last weekend. A good selection which if comes off provides more squad depth to Joe Schmidt.
Scrum Half Depth Chart to be fully assessed
During the summer international series, I had hoped that Joe Schmidt would have given the likes of Kieran Marmion or John Cooney sufficient time to impress in the nine jersey. This never materialized as Conor Murray was the default test match selection and the two players mentioned got paltry minutes. With Murray not in the squad, it provides an opportunity for Marmion, Cooney and Luke McGrath to grab the initiative and fully control the backup nine jersey battle.
Interesting Hooker Depth Chart
An intriguing depth chart issue has emerged at hooker. With Rory Best’s absence from the successful Australian tour last summer, it provided a great opportunity for Rob Herring and particularly Niall Scannell to impress. Both players to be fair took their opportunities with solid outings. The big loser in this hooker squad depth was Sean Cronin who was a late scratch from the final test when primed to play. Best as team captain is first choice but it will be interesting to see how the depth chart on the other players goes. The game minutes for Scannell, Herring and Cronin will be duly noted ahead in this end of year test match fixture list.
Tasty Second Row Battle
If you are Joe Schmidt, you are faced with a hard but satisfying position. The second row coverage for this test match fixture list is superb. The big question is how Tadhg Beirne fits into the master plan? The Kildare native has made a superb start to his Munster Rugby career and his form in European action cannot be ignored but who do you drop from the second row. Iain Henderson, James Ryan, Devin Toner, Quinn Roux will all be vying for game time next month as well. The second row combinations will be interesting to say the least; the balance of the front five is paramount. An unit where the depth chart is through the roof.
Back Row Options aplenty
The key question for me is where Sean O’Brien fits into the national side? Competition is fierce in the six and seven berths so wondering if the eight channel is an area where Ireland management will look to give O’Brien game time. The eight channel has two recognized players in the mix in CJ Stander and Jack Conan but a third option needs to emerge in the event of an injury crisis. Ruddock is an eight option but management could throw a curve ball to find additional player versatility — watch this space. The competition in the six and seven jersey battles looks fascinating; players such as Josh van der Flier, Dan Leavy, Peter O’Mahony, Jordi Murphy and Rhys Ruddock will drive each other to yet new high levels of performance.
Will Carbery and Byrne get sufficient game time?
We all know what Sexton brings to the table. What I am looking for is in this November test match series is the progression of Joey Carbery and Ross Byrne in the national team ten jersey, given ample time next month to show their skill set and game management.
This is realistically the last time that these players will be able to showcase their talent ahead of the 6 Nations tournament. Carbery has had an excellent start to the season with Munster Rugby amid injury chaos at scrum-half in the club. Ross Byrne has being an early season standout too and it remains to be seen whether the Leinster Rugby backup to Sexton will be given sufficient game minutes.
With a RWC 2019 schedule which will require full squad participation and quality, this is a vital squad selection for Joe Schmidt to identify the depth chart to the open positions. Roll on November!