Keep Calm and Carry On (Picking Donncha)

Deccie announces his Six Nations squad tomorrow.  It’s his first since the World Cup, in which he made a couple of bold, surprise calls for the squad.  Deccie doesn’t throw too many curveballs, and tends to give as little away as possible until the actual team has to be picked for the first game, so don’t expect to learn too much tomorrow.  Nonetheless, we expect a little culling around the fringes, with ageing tackle-bag holders moving aside for younger, fresher tackle-bag holders.

Last season he announced a 32-man squad as well as a 22 man Wolfhounds squad of players who were ‘still in contention for the first game’.  And sure enough, Tomas O’Leary played so well in the Wolfhounds’ defeat to Scotland that he gazumped all the other scrum halves to start against Italy, where he utterly justified his selection.  He must have, right, why else would they have stuck with him for the France game the week after?

Senior Squad: Cian Healy, Tom Court, Tony Buckley, Mike Ross
Wolfhounds: Brett Wilkinson, Paddy McAllister, Stephen Archer
Thanks for the memories: Marcus Horan, John Hayes
Very much a case of ‘as you were’, with few alternatives emerging.  Lamentably, Tony Buckley, being used mainly as an impact sub by Sale, will make another senior squad, but can expect to be on Eddie Rockets duty.  Court maintains his hold on the No.17 jumper, as he can scrummage badly on both sides.  Paddy McAllister looks the real deal, despite injuries curtailing his impact, but should still make the Wolfhounds.  Brett Wilkinson is a mainstay at that level, and Jamie Hagan and Stephen Archer will fight it out for the last spot.  It could go either way.  Hayes has retired and Horan’s days as a test level prop are long since gone.  There’s little point in calling him up.
Senior Squad: Rory Best, Sean Cronin, Damian Varley
Wolfhounds: Adrian Flavin
With Flannery still out and Mike Sherry also injured, the cupboard is pretty bare beyond the first three.  Varley might have to play the Wolfhounds game before joining up with the main squad. Are we missing anyone? Except Nigel Brady obviously.
Second Row
Senior Squad: Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callagan, Dan Tuohy, Donnacha Ryan, Devin Toner
Wolfhounds: Damian Browne, Ryan Caldwell
Thanks for the memories: Leo Cullen, Mick O’Driscoll
As we’ve already discussed at length, we can expect some change in this division, with Micko and Cullen making way for some bright young things.  Ryan, Toner and Tuohy have all stepped up admirably this season, and each deserve the chance to earn caps this Spring, even if its for 4 seconds.  It’ll be a case of one from the pack to partner the great O’Connell.  O’Callaghan will still make the senior squad, but his place as a mainstay in the team must be under pressure, with Ryan displacing him at Munster.  We suspect one of Tuohy or Toner may be sent down to help out with the Wolfhounds, before joining the main squad.  Failing that, Caldwell deserves to be reminded that he’s in the picture following some abrasive performances for Bath. One hopes Paddy McAllister’s lifting of Johann Muller has given him adequate muscular power to lift Damian the Hutt.
Back row
Senior Squad: Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip, Stephen Ferris, Kevin McLaughlin, Peter O’Mahony, Mike McCarthy
Wolfhounds: Chris Henry, Willie Falloon, James “Cawlin” Coughlan, Rhys Ruddock
Injured: David Wallace, Niall Ronan
Thanks for the memories: Denis Leamy, Shane Jennings
With Denis Leamy hurt, it appears injury has once again been Ireland’s best selector.  It was surely time to cut the Munster reserve flanker loose anyway, as a Deccie mainstay he would probably have been called up again.  Likewise, Jennings’ time has surely passed.  Mike McCarthy has played some great rugby in a poor side, and Kevin McLaughlin is a solid presence and good lineout option.  Peter O’Mahony has had a positive impact with Munster, and should get the call, although whether he has been better than Chris Henry (who won’t make it) is a debate for another day.  All three will be scrapping for a place in the matchday squad.  James Coughlan would be an ideal candidate to captain the Wolfhounds, for whom Henry must be on the verge of breaking some kind of appearance record.
Scrum Half
Senior Squad: Eoin Reddan, Conor Murray, Isaac Boss
Wolfhounds: Paul Marshall, Tomas O’Leary
Thanks for the memories: Peter Stringer
Boss holds on to his squad place by his fingernails.  Paul Marshall has impressed hugely, but until he’s a nailed on starter with Ulster, may find the full breakthrough elusive.  Nonetheless, he deserves a chance to impress with the Wolfhounds.  Tomas O’Leary has started the season where he left off, i.e. playing dreadfully, despite Quinny’s assurances to the contrary on Saturday, and looks to be falling further off the radar. [Aside: while we have been impressed with Quinny’s musings in the IT, would truth-telling about Munster players get him banished from Club Ligind?]
Out Half
Senior Squad: Johnny Sexton, Ronan O’Gara
Wolfhounds: Ewan Madeegan, Ian Keatley
Thanks for the memories, such as they were: iHumph
The senior squad-members pick themselves.  In the Wolfhounds, as we’ve discussed here, it’s time for a look at the exciting talents of try-happy Ian Madigan in green.  iHumph departs the scene – a talented player, but one unlikely to make the step up to test rugby.
Centres & Utility Men
Senior Squad: Gordon D’Arcy, Paddy Wallace, Fergus McFadden, Keet Earls, Darren Cave
Wolfhounds: Ian Whitten, Eoin O’Malley
Injured: Brian O’Driscoll
Yes, Paddy Wallace, but hold on for a sec …. the burning question first.  Just who will play 13?  We’ve been over it many times, and one thing’s for sure: we won’t find out tomorrow.  We’ll come back to this issue before the team announcement, but suffice to say Keet Earls’ awful performance on Saturday didn’t do him any favours.  Eoin O’Malley’s lack of recent gametime is likely to leave him out of contention, but he should get a run with the Wolfhounds.  We think Paddy Wallace will just about squeeze into the squad after a successful comeback on Friday night, where he hilariously dumped Lionheart Croft into touch.
Outside Backs
Senior Squad: Luke Fitzgerald, Tommy Bowe, Rob Kearney, Andrew Trimble
Wolfhounds: Craig Gilroy, Denis Hurley, Dave Kearney, Tiernan O’Halloran
Thanks for the memories: Shane Horgan, Geordan Murphy, possibly Gavin Duffy
A big welcome back to Luke Fitzgerald, whose return to form ensures a return to the squad.  He’ll be duking it out with Trimble to fill the 11 jersey, as we’re still assuming Keet will be picked in centre.  Tommy Bowe and Rob Kearney are nailed on starters. Gavin Duffy could make the seniors (he generally does) as a second specialist full-back, probably at the expense of Wallace or Cave.  A number of other good players are knocking on the door, but will have to settle for Wolfhounds action.  O’Halloran has caught the eye, while Simon Zebo hasn’t been included in our list, but could feature.  Hurley will provide security at 15.