Andy Farrell revealed his 37-man Ireland squad for the 2019 Six Nations yesterday, as expected, although there were some noticeable alterations and omissions.
With the 2022 championship starting in Dublin in just 16 days, we break down Farrell’s pick.
Hughie Keenan, Mike Lowry, Robert Baloucoune, Jordan Larmour, Mack Hansen
James Lowe, who was outstanding in his three outings for Ireland last autumn, is conspicuously absent due to injury.
He was part of the November squad but didn’t play and hasn’t played since for Munster, which has hampered his prospects of getting called up for the Six Nations.
Mack Hansen and Mike Lowry, two uncapped players who have previously participated in Ireland camps, join the fray. Hansen has been outstanding on the left wing for Connacht since signing last summer, and Lowry has been outstanding at fullback for Ulster.
Hugo Keenan is the undisputed number 15 choice for Ireland, but Lowe’s injury frees up a position in the starting back three. Andrew Conway excelled on the right wing last season but also played on the left for Ireland last summer.
If Conway moves to the left wing, Ulster’s Robert Baloucoune might go to the right wing, where he started Ireland’s last Test against Argentina.
Of course, Keith Earls, who has been playing on the left flank for Munster, is also in the mix, as is Jordan Larmour, who looked bright for Leinster last weekend before suffering a dead leg.
With Robbie Henshaw back in the Ireland camp after missing the autumn game due to injury, Farrell has gone for four centres.
Leinster’s Ciarán Frawley, who played in November but didn’t get a cap, is out, as is Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey, who has a hamstring issue.
The long-standing quartet of Henshaw, Bundee Aki, and Garry Ringrose are joined by Ulster’s impactful and outstanding James Hume.
In the Six Nations, the 23-year-old is due a start against Italy after earning his maiden Ireland cap last summer.
Ringrose is the incumbent at 13 but now faces challenge from Hume. Farrell will be pleased with his midfield options thanks to Ringrose’s superb rugby.
Due to the form of the four centres chosen, Munster’s Chris Farrell has also been left out.
Joey Carbery, Jack Carty, Johnny Sexton
His recovery from ankle and knee injuries for Leinster last weekend was timely, and he will hope a start against Bath this Saturday puts him in top shape for an Ireland Six Nations title bid.
With a fractured elbow, Joey Carbery’s inclusion was a surprise yesterday, but Farrell and co. are clearly bullish about his rehabilitation pace.
But Connacht’s in-form Jack Carty, who has played some of his greatest rugby this season, might receive his first cap since the 2019 World Cup in the opening game against Wales.
Harry Byrne, 22, of Leinster, hasn’t played enough rugby this season to be considered for the squad.
No changes to Farrell’s team, with Connacht’s Kieran Marmion unfortunate not to be involved following a stellar season and multiple inter-provincial games.
Instead, Farrell has re-signed Munster halfback Craig Casey, 22. The Limerick man impressed in the recent comeback win over Ulster, and Farrell believes he can progress further in Ireland’s camp.
Jamison Gibson-Park, the current number nine, returns to camp after missing the last two games due to injury.
Conor Murray, whose new central IRFU contract was revealed before Christmas, will push hard to recapture the position he held before Gibson-rise Park’s to prominence.
Jared Conan, Gavin Coombes, Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Peter O’Mahony
This isn’t surprising given how well Farrell’s back row played in the autumn and some of these players’ recent form.
No. 8 Jack Conan only returned from injury last weekend, but Caelan Doris and Josh van der Flier have excelled whenever they have played for Leinster – which hasn’t been very often recently.
Peter O’Mahony is in fine form for Munster and was a key member of Ireland’s back row unit in November, while Gavin Coombes’ return to form has pleased Farrell. The West Cork man was part of the autumn squad but was unable to play.
Nick Timoney of Ulster is a dynamic, intelligent option for Ireland as he seeks his maiden Six Nations debut.
In addition to Cian Prendergast, Farrell has named Connacht’s uncapped Cian Prendergast as a development player for Ireland’s Six Nations preparations.
Ultan Dillane has been left out due to his anticipated move to La Rochelle at the conclusion of the season, with Ulster’s Kieran Treadwell replacing him.
Treadwell has been a standout performer for his province recently, particularly against Clermont and Northampton in Europe. It’s been two years since he won three Ireland caps under Joe Schmidt.
Despite recent injuries to Tadhg Beirne, Iain Henderson, and James Ryan, Farrell will be thrilled to select his three frontline locks.
That means Beirne will start the Six Nations for Ireland, despite Farrell’s preference for a Henderson-Ryan combo when both are available.
Ryan Baird, 22, of Leinster, returns to camp seeking to progress from ‘potential’ to a regular in Ireland’s matchday squad this season.
Tom O’Toole, Tadhg Furlong
It’s a comfort for Farrell that Furlong’s calf injury suffered last weekend for Leinster against Montpellier isn’t too serious.
Furlong’s power, work rate, set-piece expertise, and skill level boost this Ireland team.
As a result, Farrell will be hoping that 23-year-old Ulster tighthead Tom O’Toole can develop into a front-line back-up option to Furlong.
Connacht has more But Finlay Bealham, who was a replacement against Japan and the All Blacks last autumn before O’Toole, might keep his place.
Rónan Kelleher and Dan Sheehan, Leinster’s explosive hooking pair, are set to continue their growth as a potentially world-class hooking combination throughout this Six Nations.
Sheehan earned his first two Ireland appearances in November and has impressed Farrell with his efforts for Leinster this season. He’ll attempt to make his Ireland Six Nations debut.
But the Leinster players are stronger ball-carriers and both are comfortable passing and offloading.
The 23-year-old Kelleher and Sheehan have greatly relieved Ireland’s long-term concerns regarding the hooker berth.
Dave Kilcoyne, Cian Healy
Farrell was never going to change this, with Porter expected to return to the loosehead side for Tests after three strong starts in November.
If he keeps up his current form, the 26-year-old Leinster prop might become the best in the world.
Cian Healy, 34, appears to be the back-up, giving huge experience and ruck nous. He isn’t the same player he once was, but he’s determined to stay relevant until the 2023 World Cup.
Dave Kilcoyne has been forceful in the carry for Munster recently, but will have to overtake Healy to make Ireland’s Six Nations team.