With the 2019 Six Nations on the horizon, coach Joe Schmidt has named his 38-man squad for the opening two rounds.
The announcement saw three uncapped players make the grade, and with the provincial teams performing well currently, Schmidt stated that some late changes may need to be made dependent on the domestic matches between now and the opener against England on Febuary 2.
All three uncapped Connacht players come into a tightly contested backs section, but Schmidt did earmark some of those who were unlucky to miss out among the forwards.
“In the front row Finlay Bealham was very close, as was Marty Moore, who is getting back to the form that saw him win 10 caps in the past and Stephen Archer was at his combative best in Gloucester at the weekend,” the New Zealander said via IrishRugby.ie.
“Rob Herring is very unlucky as his performances for the national team have been first rate. Denis Buckley has done well for Connacht and the promising young looseheads, Ed Byrne and Eric O’Sullivan, have continued to impress.”
Experienced locks Quinn Roux and Billy Holland also miss out, while some positive words for youngsters Gav Thornbury, Fineen Wycherley and Kieran Treadwell were spoken also.
Elsewhere, new challengers and injuries are sure to see changes across the backs before the conclusion of the tournament, in which Ireland won their third Grand Slam title last year.
“Even more competitive is the back row, where those selected could well be joined by Dan Leavy once he’s fully fit,” Schmidt stated. “Sean Reidy continues to be all action for Ulster and Tommy O’Donnell is starting to get back to top form as well after his recent return from injury.”
“With a cohort of young players emerging, it will continue to keep plenty of pressure on the performances of the experienced back rowers who have been selected.”
Luke McGrath’s injury is likely to rule him out of the Six Nations, and though Conor Murray has returned, an opportunity arises for both Jack Carty and Caolin Blade.
“Kieran Marmion is not too far away from returning but John Cooney will hopefully be back this weekend for Ulster. It’s a great opportunity for Caolin Blade to get into camp and compete for a spot.”
Joey Carbery and Jack Carty feature at fly-half as Johnny Sexton continues his recovery from injury. Such is the competition here that both Billy Burns and Ross Byrne were omitted, with Schmidt reserving particular praise for the latter, terming his exclusion an ‘incredibly tight call’.
Centres Rory Scannell and Stu McCloskey can consider themselves unlucky among others.
“We’re sure that Sam Arnold and Rory O’Loughlin will continue to improve and both have plenty of promise.
“Adam Byrne and Dave Kearney were both very good against Toulouse. The Connacht outside backs have been consistently good, and Mike Haley is growing into his role with Munster while we look forward to a fit-again Darren Sweetnam gaining some game minutes over the coming weeks.”