We are in November. The nights are getting longer and the Autumn international series is upon us. Ireland face Japan, New Zealand and Argentina this month. This post looks at what I hope for in this series of games for Ireland.
Form a squad who will feature at RWC 2023
This is a series to start to determine who will be a prominent performer for the side for RWC 2023 and who are not going to make the cut?
The Japanese and Argentinian games particular should be used to elevate the young players in the squad but will they get the game minutes to make an impression.
Squad depth issues exposed in previous RWC tournaments. Will the same mistake be made here again? We need to see national team management really start to focus on consistent squad selection now with perhaps a selection or two included due to excellent form.
Who is the heir apparent to Sexton?
Harry Byrne and Joey Carbery are the backups to Jonathan Sexton in this series of fixtures. Sexton is still the standard bearer for Ireland in the ten jersey. Are you worried?
Who is going to take their chance to make a significant statement in these games to be considered for more games in the position apart from the Leinster Rugby talisman.
Byrne is well regarded within Leinster Rugby. Carbery has undoubted potential but early season form has been hit and miss. Where does Ross Byrne, Billy Burns and Jack Carty fit in here?
Ciaran Frawley is an intriguing selection potentially. He is playing three quarters but is equally comfortable at ten. Time will tell. We need an answer to the ten jersey depth chart after this series.
Driving further performance standards in the hooker position
The post Rory Best era has seen Rob Herring and Ronan Kelleher have opportunities for the jersey with mixed results. We need these guys and Dan Sheehan to push on and increase their performance levels at test match level.
The lineout execution is crucial for this side still and the hooker position is one where the players selected need to take their chance to cement their names to the squad long term.
Andy Farrell does have options looking in from the outside so it is time to confirm who are go to selections for the two jersey. Dave Heffernan and Niall Scannell will be looking with interest. Can anyone else stake a claim for the hooker jersey?
Looking at scrum-half options
Similar to the Sexton point. We need to elevate the half-back options during this series. Conor Murray is still a big player in this national squad but we need to see Craig Casey, Jamison Gibson-Park in action.
I am disappointed that Nathan Doak did not get a call up but that will come in time. Luke McGrath, John Cooney and Kieran Marmion still looking from the outside. The depth chart is pretty deep in the position.
The two players selected alongside Conor Murray like an up-tempo game so it will be interesting how Ireland management allocate game minutes in the vital position.
We need adventure in our attacking play so it would be good to see one of the backups get game time to set the tone early.
Can young guns impress?
I am looking at this series as an opportunity for the young players to get game time at test match level. Wales may have lost to New Zealand last weekend but they did blood new players to this elite level. We should be doing the same.
I would love to see Tom O’Toole, Ciaran Frawley, Robert Baloucoune get game minutes to see how they fare. O’Toole for me needs to push on and stake a claim for a regular starting front row berth.
Gavin Coombes will get game time and make the necessary impact. Time to take the opportunity and look to pose questions for Ireland management on which long standing player need to be phased out? James Hume as well comes to mind.
The role for Simon Zebo
An interesting subplot here. Hugo Keenan looks like he has the full back role locked up so where does Simon Zebo fit into the grand scheme of things?
James Lowe provides massive attacking and kicking capability but defensive fragility was a theme last season. Does Zebo look to slot into the back three to provide more defensive stability?
Ireland have flexibility with several players more than capable of filling back three positions. Zebo will be eager to get game minutes but I suspect it could be a waiting game.
Who is our pack leader?
Ireland has an abundance in pack talent but who is the go to person in the pack who is the leader, who will take the game by the scruff of the neck.
Collective pack leadership is one thing but we need a player who is feared by opposition. The Itoje, Etzebeth, Jones impact player who will effect a tight test match in Ireland’s favor.
Sexton captaincy is no issue for me but the pack leadership needs to be improved. November should go a long way to determine who that player is, even more important as Stander is no longer in the squad.