Ireland Squad Announcement Day

It’s Ireland squad announcement day tomorrow, a day which typically allows fans to grumble that their favourite fourth choice wing has been overlooked for someone they perceive to be not quite as good, for the role of holding tackle pads opposite Tommy Bowe in Carton House. As ever, it will be a case of trying to read between the lines to try to form an insight into Joe Schmidt’s thinking, but chances are he won’t give too much away. Expectations are that a single squad of 40 or more names will be named, with those being dispatched for Wolfhounds duty to be decided closer to the match

Nonetheless, a handful of themes to look out for are:

  1. Just back from injury

A number of prominent players are at the cusp of returning, or have just returned, from lengthy lay-offs. Cian Healy, Sean O’Brien, Keith Earls and Iain Henderson would enhance any team, so no doubt Joe Schmidt will want to give them every chance to prove their fitness. Rhys Ruddock is also in line for a return after a not-so-long period out injured, and Jared Payne is another who is recently back to fitness. There’s also Nathan White, who could be in the test squad. On l’autre hand, he’s unlikely to throw in so many players who are short of match time together into his test team. Chances are he’ll want to see these guys get as much action as they can over the next few weeks. Hopefully we’ll see Keith Earls start for Munster this weekend. The Wolfhounds match could prove a handy tool, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a very strong panel on paper, if somewhat rusty in practice, named for that game.

  1. Low representation for Ulster

Ulster’s nightmare season and heavy injury toll looks set to leave them with their lowest representation since, well, since Kidney was in charge. Chris Henry, Dan Tuohy, Andrew Trimble, Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding are injured, while Robbie Diack has lost his form. Payne, Best and Bowe are all likely to be in the squad and Henderson should be there too provided he shows a bit of spark in the next two weeks, but who else? Darren Cave and Craig Gilroy, at a push. Dan Tuohy is particularly unlucky to be injured as he was one of their few forwards to impress in recent months, but alas, he’s out.

  1. Sea change at prop?

As Mike Ross’ season has gone a bit John Hayes c.2011, Joe Schmidt has some decisions to make at prop. Matt O’Connor described it as a sea change, as Mike Ross has been left out altogether, with Marty Moore starting and Tadgh Furlong his deputy. Moore has turned the fortunes of the Leinster scrum on their head since returning from injury and his newfound status as first choice prop at Leinster is almost certain to be emulated at test level. Could Mike Ross be jettisoned entirely, on the premise that once your time’s up, your time’s up? Or will Schmidt want to see him for himself before throwing him into the bin? Nathan White, Tadgh Furlong and Rodney Ah Here are all liable to be in the mix so the cupboard isn’t bare, although none are names that will give sleepless nights to Joe Marler or Tomas Domingo. The end of one of the most remarkable test careers in recent history may be about to end.

  1. The Leinster three-quarter line is back

Useless most of the season, Leinster’s back play has been much improved with the return of Dave Kearney, Fergus McFadden and Luke Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is guaranteed to be in the squad, and we’re dreaming of a Henshaw-Luke centre partnership for the Italy game. Kearney and Fitzgerald should make the enlarged panel too, with Bowe, Zebo and Earls likely to be the back-three men joining them.  The new-look backline at Leinster has seen Gordon D’arcy squeezed out, and it may be his Ireland career will go the same way as Mike Ross.  He’s likely to skate in to the enlarged panel but may find himself out of the matchday 23.

  1. Say hello to Jack Conan

… but just don’t stand in his way. New caps may be thin on the ground after a number of players broke their duck in Novemeber, but one player certain to make his acquaintance with Carton House’s Farrow & Ball muted tones is Jack Conan. With Ireland lacking carrying prowess and Rhys Ruddock and Robin Copeland missing in action in recent weeks, Conan has not so much climbed up the pecking order as run into it and smashed it out of the way.

  1. Fly-halves needed

With Jonny Sexton out of the Italy game and only able to participate in non-contact training and Paddy Jackson sidelined altogether, Ians Madigan and Keatley are walk-ins to the squad and matchday 23. It probably leaves room for an additional fly-half, with a view to playing the Wolfhounds game where Schmidt is unlikely to risk either of the above picking up an injury. It might just be a good opportunity to call JJ Hanrahan up to the squad to give the poor lamb a reminder that somebody out there loves him. In 2009, Declan Kidney made a similar move by picking an out-of-favour Jonny Sexton for the Wolfhounds ,and the selection paid great dividends, with Sexton acknowledging that he gained in confidence from it and it started to turn his season around. We all remember how it ended.

We’ll follow up with post-announcement reaction below the line.

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51 Comments

  1. Its tough being an Ulster fan at the minute, especially considering we’ve gone from three (THREE) quality 12s in or around or bolting to the squad to none faster than you can say Stand Up, nevermind the loss of Jackson who was showing some pretty promising form, the Treviso second half aside.

    From an Ireland POV, the second most pressing problem (as you’ve already covered things at 10) that I can see is 12. D’Arcy almost single-handedly gave Castres a try within minutes of coming on the field on Saturday, and while he *probably* shouldn’t be written off yet, I just can’t see how he’s going to stand up to the Awesome Powers of guys like Basteareau, Burrell/Tuilagi or Jamie Roberts. The conundrum is who else is there? By the sounds of things Henshaw is nailed on to the starting team, so he could pull on 12 at a push, but it might be better to play someone who’s had more gametime (if not much) there this season in Hurle-er, Hanrahan. Or put Keatley at 10 and Mads at 12, just to see Leinsterlion’s veins pop a little more. Cave would be another option.

    All in all, I think we’ll still have a strong group of players, but I do feel that Joe does have some work to do again to make a strong squad.

    • Yossarian

       /  January 21, 2015

      Henshaw played South Africa at 12 and would expect him to continue there with Luke at 13(or payne if they want to renew that pairing and push luke to wing at the expense of Zebo which seems unlikely)
      If anything happens to Henshaw though we are in bother. Luke to 12 in that scenario perhaps?

      • Henshaw was superbn for Ireland against South Africa at 12, so I think we will see him in that role again, especially as it creates room for Fitzgerald outside him. That looks a great centre partnership to me, really exciting and not exactly lacking in AWESOMER POWER either. If Henshaw’s injury doesn’t heal up it certainly changes things. I’m not sure Schmidt fancies Madigan at 12 but may be pressed into something along those lines.

        Hurley and Hanrahan won’t be in the mix. Hurley simply isn’t good enough and Hanrahan hasn’t had enough of a chance to push for contention.

        • Yeah, it’s probably the most likely scenario. Hopefully now that it’s been brought up it doesn’t mean that Luke suddenly gets struck by lightning or something. Hurley was definitely a tongue-in-cheek call, but I think Hanrahan may have a chance by way of the Wolfhounds, as you say in the article above.

        • D6W

           /  January 21, 2015

          Speaking of Ulster representation, is McCluskey in the mix. He could be an option at 12, is Henshw not available.

          • I think he’s injured too. Like an episode of M.A.S.H. up north at the moment.

          • Aye, he was the first to get crocked badly this season. If any of Ulster’s bonefide 12s will be joining late it’ll be Marshall, but that depends entirely on how long he is told to be out for return to play protocols.

          • I don’t think he’s got a return date at all – stood down indefinitely I think.

        • I think Reid would get in ahead of Hurley. Also Chris Farrell has been playing 13 in every game for Grenoble, who aren’t doing too badly. I haven’t watched them now, so I can’t say with any certainty, but he’s a player mentioned by WoC in the past

    • We are in ribbons but the 6N is an opportunity to forget about that for a couple of months.

      • …except when the Pro12 returns and we’re shorn of our fit internationals as well as the injured ones. Just as long as Doak stops putting Heaney and Paul Marshall on the bench together!

        • All the verbals about Toulon being unbelievable – front rowers who can pass! – etc. largely skimmed over the fact that Ulster’s pack was entirely different from a couple of years ago when they were contenders, and the backline contained three scrum halves AND Ian Humphreys.

          When Castro is throwing dummies and making breaks you know it’s a joke. They were good but we are Humpty Dumpty, post tumble.

  2. Think you’re right that it will be somewhat stripped down – with so many players just back, a lot of Wolfhounds will be playing with a view to being fit for as much of the 6N as possible.

    Squad something like:

    LH: Healy, McGrath, Cronin
    HK: Best, Cronin, Strauss
    TH: Moore, Ross, Furlong, White
    SR: POC, Toner, Henderson, McCarthy, Foley
    BR: O’Brien, Heaslip, O’Mahony, Ruddock, Conan, Jordi M, O’Donnell (22 forwards)
    SH: Murray, Marmion, Reddan, McGrath
    OH: Sexton, Madigan, Keatley, Hanrahan (I reckon he’ll feature for the hounds at least)
    CT: Henshaw, Payne, Fitzgerald, D’Arcy
    OBs: Bowe, Kearney, Kearney, Zebo, Gilroy, Earls, McFadden, Jones (20 backs)

    Tbh, I’d not have D’Arcy involved and see Madigan and McFadden covering midfield at a pinch. And, from that, Wolfhounds would be, fitness permitting:

    Healy, Strauss, White
    Henderson, Foley
    O’Brien, Conan, Jordi
    Marmion
    Keatley
    Dave K, Hanrahan, Payne, Gilroy
    Jones

    B: Cronin, Cronin, Furlong, McCarthy, O’Donnell, McGrath, McFadden, Earls

    • Mary Hinge

       /  January 21, 2015

      Healy from Connacht will be called into the squad.

    • Why would Ireland’s 5th choice outhalf get a game now when he’s jumped ship to Northampton, when he didn’t get one before? Would be thoroughly surprise if Hanrahan gets a look-in.

      • garzoo

         /  January 21, 2015

        He’d get a call up because 2/4 of the out halves ahead of him are injured. Who else would you pick?

        • curates_egg

           /  January 21, 2015

          Steenson – see below

          • garzoo

             /  January 21, 2015

            Is Steenson as good as Madigan/Keatley/Jackson? (that is an actual q, I don’t watch the Chiefs play). Because the world cup squad will have sexton and 1 or 2 others. Hanrahan is a very young talented guy who could be Ireland’s starting 10 someday. I don’t see the benefit of picking a 30 year old as squad back up, if he isn’t in with a chance of making the WC squad alongside Sexton and one of the 3 above.

          • curates_egg

             /  January 21, 2015

            At what? He is as good a place kicker as Madigan and better than the others. Probably a better kicker from hand than the others too, so well suited to Schmidtball.

            If you are looking at the Italian game, we will start either Madigan (who has played at 10 3 times this season and still gets all the same lazy criticism levelled at him – fairly or not) or Keatley (who, let’s face it, can be good but can be bad and is not a totally convincing place kicker). It’s not outlandish to suggest that Steenson (who has been playing well this year might be better placed to start than them.

            Of course, it’s not going to happen because (a) he has been overlooked until now and (b) it is a world cup year and he would be unlikely to make that squad. Still though, if you were being fair, he is ahead of the two Munster pretenders and is actually playing at 10 (unlike Madigan). He probably should have at least got a look in before now but he probably won’t get one at this stage.

          • D6W

             /  January 21, 2015

            Another reason is that Ireland have seemingly unofficially adopted the policy of only picking players based in Ireland, except in truly exceptional circumstances IE Sexton and Bowe. This is essential for the long term game in Ireland, and picking Steenson as another option when we have Madigan and Keatley does not qualify as exceptional.

    • Billy

       /  January 21, 2015

      I hope JJ gets picked in light of the PJ/JS injuries. He may be 5th choice at present but he has the potential to be 1st choice in a few years. I think it’s pretty spiteful of some to not want him selected due to his move to Northampton. I can understand Munster supporters being upset but I’m hoping it’s more of a Mick O’Driscoll to Perpignan switch than a Jeremy Staunton situation. He has the opportunity to spend two years in a better team in a better league playing better football. The move could make him and he could come back in two years a far superior player. The situation needs to handled well by Ireland and Munster though, starting with including him in this squad.

    • Roundy

       /  January 21, 2015

      Bent has been playing some serious rugby at LH this season. Because of the injury to Healy he (Bent) is getting good game time and his game has improved immensely. Although doubt the three LH’s would be picked from the one province.

  3. Leinsterlion

     /  January 21, 2015

    Mike Ross career over
    The press said late start late finish
    Ah here new beginning?

    I was trying to come up with a Haiku about Mike Ross and kept failing miserably, so a comment will have to do. Its amazing how quickly he has fallen off. He was always a reliable scrummager and iffy around the field, now he is just iffy all over. In the space of what, a year and bit, he has gone from “if he’s done we’re done” to one year contract, “shure cant that Bent fella cover your position”.

    Fly half isnt a worry, Maddog, Keatley can do the job and if needs be, there are bargain basement options in JJ, Steenson kicking about as third choice cover. Sexton is a loss, but its not the WC final(and Stephen Donald has shown that if you have a bent ref and no offside line or rucks you can win a WC without a ten).

    As for the injured lads, we have enough strength in depth barring a horrendous injury crisis, parachuting them in would be incredibly bad form and display an utter lack of faith in our (in some cases)third choice players. Rugby is a 32/33 man squad game, outside of a once off win at all costs game, form and fitness has to be recognised.

    • D6W

       /  January 21, 2015

      Loose “The press said” and I think you got it. I agree with you regarding depth, it is important not to pick injured players for 23 who have not turned out for their province or at least the Wolfhounds, no matter who they are.

  4. curates_egg

     /  January 21, 2015

    Of course, he’ll never be called up but it at least merits pointing out that the Irish outhalf who is actually fit and playing in position and in good form is Gareth Steenson. He would also seem quite suited to Schmidtball.
    Not gonna happen though.

    • Steenson will probably end up being our Stephen Donald, called up in the middle of an Exeter training session for the RWC final or something.

  5. Kelly Peters

     /  January 21, 2015

    Just to back up all the talk about the lack of you talent in Munster at the moment. Here’s a breakdown of U20 squad – Leinster 14, Ulster 7, Connacht 5 and Munster 4.

  6. Riocard Ó Tiarnaigh

     /  January 21, 2015

    Re Toulon: Ulster were putting it up to them till PJ got crocked. Then it was two overseen forward passes for the Habana try, iHumph goes AWOL for the Basteraud try and it’s suddenly game over. Pity.

  7. Moore has looked great in the last few weeks, and in general. Apart from in Paris last year – Debaty really murdered him and we were prob lucky to win.

    Dunno if that’s worth worrying about – maybe just a case of experience v youth – but it does seem a slight worry.

    Anyone got general 6N thoughts yet? Is it just me or is this the closest it’s been for years? On paper at least.

    • Seamaster7

       /  January 21, 2015

      I think your right, closest in years.

      Don’t think Scotland or Italy will be contenders but the other four could be. And I like that Ireland have the big two at home.

      • Scotland may not be contenders but I think they’ll have more about them than in previous years, they won’t be pushovers and will probably be good for an upset or two (quite possibly against us, see 2008)

        • Seamaster7

           /  January 21, 2015

          Good point on Scotland and away to murryfield could be very difficult alright.

  8. This Wasps match at the weekend is the realistically the last thing the Irish team needs.

    An injury at this point to Madigan, Fitzgerald, Kearney, Heaslip (unlikely I know), Toner or basically any of the front row would really leave Ireland short. Also the complete lack of information coming out Murray’s neck injury has me seriously worried.

    Thankfully everything I’ve read suggest Henshaws ankle sprain is grade 1 so should be fine for the Italy match.

  9. connachtexile

     /  January 21, 2015

    I’m hearing a lot of talk about Steenson but what about Jack Carty? I’m not saying for the senior squad but he has to be worth at least a Wolfhounds spot.

    • With Sexton, Jackson, Olding and Ronaldson unavailable the only fit IQ outhalves (for third choice, Madigan and Keatley are shoeins) are Steenson, Hanrahan, and Carty. I think we can rule out Steenson – approaching 30 and maybe sixth choice on merit when everyone’s available. So the choice comes down to Hanrachan or Carty. Selecting Hanrahan goes against the home-based selection policy and could be seen to be a slap-down to Foley. If Carty plays well in France (while Hanrahan moulders on the bench, most likely) he might get a shout.

      • His exit strategy (particularly during the Edinburagh match) leaves a lot to be desired. That said least he’s not hesitant to try stuff but think he needs more work on his overall game before the call-up.

        Realistically though whoever is third choice will probably just play the wolfhounds match so its not the biggest deal ever anyway.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  January 21, 2015

      Are you that enamoured with Carty? what I’ve seen of him, he looks very wild(in terms of his control). Sometimes he is not in the right position to receive, dodgy option taking both passing, kicking and running. He doesnt play in a relaxed way, Marmion buzzing about at a million miles an hour seems to exert more control and seems to have time and space(and pick the right options) compared to Carty. He looked like a very raw higher level AIL player(much like Ronaldson). Tbh I would love to see a Murray/Marmion partnership over Carty being third choice for Ireland. I think he is a year or two away at this point.

      • Mary Hinge

         /  January 21, 2015

        Agreed LL (and I’m a Connacht supporter). I suspect Carty might get a run from the Wolfhounds bench to back up possibly iHumph. Madigan and Keatley in that order will be in the 23 for Rome.

  10. Kevin

     /  January 22, 2015

    I’m a Connacht supporter and think he’ been routinely shite all year, while showing very little signs of improvement despite being given a huge run of games. I think ‘wild’ is a great way of describing him LL. Ronaldson looks much better and it seems he’s rightfully leapfrogged Carty, as he was due to start against Exeter (and that was Lam putting out his strongest possible side)

    • D6W

       /  January 22, 2015

      What about Leader, is he worth a place on the squad? I have not seen every Connacht game, but he has impressed me when playing.

      • Muliaina is playing fullback so his playing opportunities have been limited the last 2 months or so, and split between FB, wing, and centre. Understandably his form is a bit patchy.

  11. connachtexile

     /  January 22, 2015

    I’m not saying Carty is the finished product by any stretch but with Ronaldson out with a concussion Carty is getting gametime and while he is nowhere near the finished product I think his roof of potential is a lot higher than a lot on here give him credit for.

    • Agreed. A (much) rawer version of Madigan. He had a superb creative game against Exeter – clean break led to the first try, buatiful long pass set up the third and a lovely pop pass for the fourth. I think he was even in the maul for the second try 🙂
      Obviously he’s going to need to drastically improve his game management, but that’s only going to come with games. A lot of Connacht fans would rather Ronaldson at 10; while he was absolutely superb against Munster most of his appearances have been at 12 and several of his (few) other appearances at 10 have been really poor. There’s an element of the corner forward’s younger brother about the clamour for his inclusion forConnacht (the lad who isn’t playing is always better).

      • Carty’s big problem is, unlike Madigan, his place kicking isn’t good enough. He really needs to sort that, we leave behind too many points (typically conversions) when he plays

      • I wouldn’t really liken Carty to Madigan. He doesn’t have Madigan’s break, his place kicking, or the long, fizzing pass. He’s an excellent all-round athlete and a very good footballer, which means he’s a very capable runner and passer, but he simply doesn’t have those huge “natural” talents that Madigan does. He also doesn’t have his swagger, important for a half-back, or his magnificent hair, important for a media darling (although Gavin Cummiskey has been talking him up even in the midst of some poor form, oddly).

        On the flipside, I think Carty does have good vision for tactical kicking, something I wouldn’t credit Madigan with; his kicking from hand is inconsistent but he often correctly identifies space even when he’s not technically able to exploit it. When he does, it can be very effective: he put a beautiful slider in behind Rob Kearney in the game at the RDS that led to a Connacht five-metre scrum, for example. Right now I’d have Ronaldson ahead of him, but I think Lam correctly believes Carty to be a better long-term shot, and has invested game-time in him with that in mind. Connacht fans need to be patient with him.

  12. Das Waderwurst

     /  January 22, 2015

    Boss has been a great servant, yadda yadda yadda, but surely there’s much more to gain from having McGrath in the extended squad? I’m not saying I’d have him as third choice if we were off to the WC tomorrow, but being involved at this level will help him prepare for the big stage when his chance does come. Boss has been there and bought the t-shirt, won’t make a match day 23 barring injury, and will benefit little from holding tackle bags. McGrath would gain just from being in and around the big dogs and watching St Joe perform his magic in the flesh.

  13. Yossarian

     /  January 23, 2015

    In context of previous article regarding Munster and whee they go from here the U20 squad announcement was more relevant than Joes squad. only 4 from Munster so the young talent isn’t there to help turn things around.

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