Osborne and Crowley in as Andy Farrell unveils the Ireland 6N squad

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has named a thirty-seven strong squad for the upcoming Guinness Six Nations. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on a squad selection which rewards some for standout form but also shows loyalty to certain experienced players who have not played extensive game minutes for their provinces this season.

The Winners

Jamie Osborne receives a first senior international callup given his form for Leinster Rugby this season. The Naas RFC product has reveled this season with the Emerging Ireland tour of South Africa the springboard for a productive season with Leinster Rugby. His partnership with Garry Ringrose has seen the unit score and provide an attacking platform for their colleagues. A worthy additional and a reward for standout form so far this season.

Jacob Stockdale makes a welcome return to the senior setup. A player with massive talent who has been plighted with injuries in recent seasons. It remains to be seen how much game minutes Stockdale will get in this tournament but the fact that it is in the initial squad bodes well to see some minutes if called upon. The recent form guide with his province is undefined but management must be confident to include the player.

Gavin Coombes returns to the international senior squad. His omission last November was the proverbial kick up the behind moment to propel the Cork man to greater performance levels for Munster Rugby. His performances in recent weeks have stood out. His ball carrying and versatility to switch to the second row provides additional flexibility for Andy Farrell in this campaign. He could not be left out given his current form.

Jack Crowley retains his squad berth. The Cork man is now a key fulcrum for Munster Rugby and management gave their backing of the player by whipping off Joey Carbery last weekend against Northampton Saints when the results was in the balance. Sexton will start but fitness concerns on the player means that Crowley and Ross Byrne could get invaluable minutes in the middle tournament fixtures.

Ross Byrne is back in the setup. He is seen as a steady operator at ten and given his composure to slot home the game winning penalty against Australia last November, his inclusion is merited. Byrne has provided excellent performances for a dominant Leinster Rugby side in URC and Champions Cup tournaments. The ten succession planning has started in earnest with Ross Byrne and Jack Crowley front and centre given the omission of Joey Carbery.

Bundee Aki. A disrupted season given suspension woes and then having to sit out games given the form of Connacht Rugby’s current three-quarter starters where the likes of Forde, Farrell, Hawkshaw have caught the eye. Farrell is remaining loyal to Aki for now but the game time situation at Connacht Rugby must improve for the player to have any chance of a RWC 2023 squad berth.

Conor Murray will be relieved to be on the extended squad. His omission from the Northampton Saints game was a headline grabber but Farrell remains loyal to a player stacked with experience and whose leadership and game management are still massively valued. Like Aki, Murray needs quality game minutes but given the form of Casey and Patterson this term; some will be surprised to see the Limerick man feature in this squad.

McGrath, Blade and Doak looking on from the outside seeking feedback from Ireland senior management on what they must do to get into this squad. Murray will look to secure game time against Toulouse and look to appease those who will feel that his time with the national side is numbered.  

Keith Earls has seen precious little game time this season for Munster Rugby. Farrell is a known admirer of the Limerick man so it will be interesting to see if Earls will play any part in the Toulouse fixture this weekend to show form. This is another player loyalty selection more so than form shown this season.

Dave Kilcoyne comes out of the international cold with a recall given injury issues to Jeremy Loughman. The player’s performances have steadily improved after a lengthy layoff with Munster Rugby. The question is whether the UL Bohemians player will get quality minutes in this tournament? It could be remote given that Cian Healy is in the roster also.

The Losers

Joey Carbery will be disappointed by this omission but must realise that this is now the time to reset and improve. The Athy native can take inspiration from Gavin Coombes’ omission last November and to see Coombes return into the international setup because of elevated performances.

Munster Rugby management are looking right now at Jack Crowley as the long-term answer at number ten so it is up to Carbery to stand up and deliver improved performances when given the opportunity. RWC 2023 squad ambitions still alive but Carbery must elevate his game in all areas. 

James Hume loses out in the battle for the centre squad berth with Jamie Osborne. Hume like his colleagues Mike Lowry and Kieran Treadwell paying the price for a disastrous slump in Ulster Rugby form since the Leinster Rugby loss in the RDS.

Hume still has grounds for optimism but the current season form line for Ulster Rugby has not helped anyone from the province in this squad selection. When you consider that Jimmy O’Brien can slot into the three quarters, Hume realises that he has a fight on his hands to get back into the senior setup before the RWC 2023.

Nick Timoney loses out to Gavin Coombes in the back row selection. Timoney for me has been an impressive performer for Ulster Rugby throughout the season regardless of the province’s form.

This is a tough call for the player but Timoney no doubt will be given an opportunity to impress as injuries will be picked up as the tournament progresses to the back row unit. The Ulster Rugby performances in recent months have not helped the situation.

Jean Kleyn will be disappointed to not get a call up. His form for Munster Rugby has been consistently high for Munster Rugby but the second-row depth chart of Ryan, Beirne, Baird, Henderson and McCarthy are a tough nut to crack.

The emergence of Edwin Edogbo and the Murray brothers in Connacht Rugby adds more competition for those outside looking to break into the second-row depth chart for the senior international side. You add Kieran Treadwell to the mix along with Josh Murphy and it is massive competition for the second-row places.

Overall Assessment

Twenty Leinster Rugby, eight Munster Rugby, five Ulster Rugby and four Connacht Rugby players form the Ireland playing squad for this tournament. It reflects the dominance of Leinster Rugby in the provincial fixtures along with URC and Champions Cup competitions this season.  

It is an experienced squad announced by head coach Andy Farrell and management. It is a strong squad given the results culminated in this World Cup cycle where loyalty has overruled form guide on some selections today. Faith to the management will need to be repaid immediately.

Jonathan Sexton captains the side so the question remains who the backup if Sexton goes down injured. It is 50/50 whether this will be Ross Byrne or Jack Crowley. The Joey Carbery succession plan is on hold for now.

Every unit selected looks strong on paper. There is versatility in the full back position. Hugo Keenan will be the first choice although you have O’Brien, Earls, Stockdale or Hansen to cover.

The loosehead prop depth chart beyond our default starters though looks undefined. Healy looks the closer but can Kilcoyne get in the mix here to show his capability? Loughman in the depth chart.. Loosehead depth chart is a worry.

Furlong’s injury woes means that Finlay Bealham should be given some starts in this tournament. It is required and overdue for the Connacht Rugby player. Apart from Bealham, who is covering the position?

Tom O’Toole has seen precious game time for Ireland. It is an area where England and France will look to exploit if Furlong continues to be an absentee. Marty Moore was a viable selection until injury put pay to his chances.

We are coming into the final furlong for RWC 2023 selection. For those omitted from this squad, there is still time. However, that window is shortening.

Some players selected in senior squads may see their RWC 2023 dashed unfortunately due to injury. It is going to happen given the attritional nature of this tournament so there is still hope for the likes of Carbery, Lowry, Hume, Treadwell, Kleyn, Nash, Daly, Henshaw to get back into the setup before RWC 2023.

If Ireland can deliver a competitive Guinness 6N tournament, secure marquee wins at home against France and England then the side should be bolstered in confidence to deliver a standout RWC 2023 performance later in the year which should be the core objective of this management and playing unit.

Time will tell if Ireland enter the RWC 2023 in buoyant form or are coming into this tournament on the slide looking for confidence and performance answers which has beset other Ireland teams at World Cup time.