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6 Nations

Ireland’s 6 Nations Squad: The Talking Points

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Photo By Seb Daly/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Joe Schmidt named his squad for the opening rounds of the Six Nations on Wednesday. While it was full of mostly familiar faces, there were some new caps, and some interesting talking points raised.

Scrum-Half Trouble

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Luke McGrath was helped from the field during the second half of Leinster’s win over Toulouse with what appeared to be a serious looking knee issue. Kieran Marmion is still rehabilitating after surgery on his ankle. This leaves the very talented but also quite green at international level John Cooney, and the uncapped Caoilin Blade. Cooney has won 4 caps so far, not against high-level opposition. He has been a revelation for Ulster, his ‘petit general’ style of play, and clutch goal-kicking has won Ulster several games. He is probably the closest in style of play to Conor Murray out of all the backup nines. Caoilin Blade is the only player to be involved in every game for Connacht this season, and in the opinion of many has moved ahead of Kieran Marmion. He plays a similar snappy game to Marmion and has even captained Connacht in the Challenge Cup. Blade is well deserving of his call-up, but it is more likely to be Cooney that gets the number 21 jersey.

A New 10

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The most surprising exclusion in the squad was probably the Leinster out-half. Byrne made his long-awaited international debut in Chicago this November after his stellar 2017-2018 season. The King of the Crosskick was Leo Cullen’s deputy of choice for Johnny Sexton and saw Leinster through a number of important games. While he has not performed at the same level this season, he put in a good display against Toulouse in the RDS, marking it with the usual crosskick assist. But what of his replacement in the Ireland squad, Jack Carty? The Connacht 10 is having the season of his life. Carty has been playing with a new lease of life, as has the rest of the Connacht backline, since the change in coaching this summer. Why has Schmidt chosen to call him up now though?

The reason may lie in the difference in quality between the forward packs of Leinster and Connacht. The mark of a great 10 is the ability to play their own game behind a pack that’s under pressure and on the back foot, and Carty regularly has to deal with that. Ross Byrne plays behind a pack full of internationals week in week out, and gets an armchair ride from his forwards. Schmidt wants a 10 that’s used to playing under pressure, and Carty has been, and doing it well.

Tom Farrell

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Tom Farrell is the form centre in Irish rugby at the moment. The Connacht man has had a meteoric rise since being brought in as injury cover, winning Fan’s Player of the Year last season and forming a solid partnership with Bundee Aki. Equally adept at 12 or 13, something that could stand to him travelling to Japan this September. Farrell has all the attributes you need, pace, a strong passing game, and defensively rock solid. As of now Farrell is probably fourth or fifth choice centre, behind Ringrose, Henshaw, Aki, and probably Chris Farrell.

Will Joe roll the dice on selections?

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Historically the Six Nations is not a place for experimentation, but a World Cup year is different. Last year we saw some rotation against Italy; Jack Conan started at number 8, with CJ Stander on the bench, and James Ryan rested. Jordan Larmour made his debut off the bench in the same game. Any rotation is likely to come on the bench: Will Addison will probably get some time in the 23 jersey, Tadhg Beirne may get a start in the second row.
It would also be a good idea to bring on the replacement halfbacks earlier in play. Joey will be the replacement for most of the games, and would be beneficial for him to come into a game in the balance with around 20 minutes to go, likewise for the scrum-halves, whoever that may be in the 21 jersey. Tactically, you would imagine someone with the vast playbook of Joe Schmidt won’t show his full hand. It’s all about the mind games

Full-Back

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Rob Kearney is injured, and there is no update on when he will return at time of writing. Jordan Larmour played full-back against Argentina last November and against Australia last summer so has some credit in the bank.

Will Addison however is the likely candidate to start if Rob doesn’t come back. Ireland’s defensive system relies on Kearney covering the entirety of the backfield himself, which allows the wingers to take spot in the defensive line. Jordan Larmour doesn’t yet have the defensive nous to do this to the required level, so it will likely be Will Addison running out against England on February 1st.

It’s certainly going to be an interesting campaign with lots more talking points to come.


6 Nations

Wales team to face Ireland in Dublin named

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Senior men’s head coach Warren Gatland has named the Wales side to face Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin in the third round of the 2024 Guinness Six Nations on Saturday 24 February (KO 2.15pm live on ITV and S4C).

There is one change to the starting XV that played England at Twickenham on 10 February, with Sam Costelow returning for Wales at fly half.

Among the replacements back-row Mackenzie Martin is in line to win his first senior cap this weekend and would become the 1,200th Wales men’s international.

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Tight-head prop Dillon Lewis would be making his first appearance of this Championship if called on from the bench.

Gatland said: “We are excited to go out to Dublin and test ourselves against one of the leading sides in world rugby. It’s a challenge we are relishing.

“We’ve made steps in the last couple of games and now it’s about building on that, learning from those experiences and taking that into this weekend.

“It’s about continuing to work hard, looking for accuracy in our performance across 80 minutes and also keeping our discipline.”

Wales senior men’s team to play Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin in the Guinness Six Nations, Saturday 24 February KO 2.15pm GMT. Live on ITV and S4C.
15. Cameron Winnett (Cardiff Rugby – 2 caps)
14. Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby – 56 caps)
13. George North (Ospreys – 119 caps)
12. Nick Tompkins (Saracens – 34 caps)
11. Rio Dyer (Dragons – 16 caps)
10. Sam Costelow (Scarlets – 9 caps)
9. Tomos Williams (Cardiff Rugby – 55 caps)
1. Gareth Thomas (Ospreys – 27 caps)
2. Elliot Dee (Dragons – 48 caps)
3. Keiron Assiratti (Cardiff Rugby – 4 caps)
4. Dafydd Jenkins (Exeter Chiefs – 14 caps) Captain / Capten
5. Adam Beard (Ospreys – 53 caps)
6. Alex Mann (Cardiff Rugby – 2 caps)
7. Tommy Reffell (Leicester Tigers – 15 caps)
8. Aaron Wainwright (Dragons – 45 caps)

Replacements

16. Ryan Elias (Scarlets – 40 caps)
17. Corey Domachowski (Cardiff Rugby – 8 caps)
18. Dillon Lewis (Harlequins – 54 caps)
19. Will Rowlands (Racing 92 – 30 caps)
20. Mackenzie Martin (Cardiff Rugby – uncapped)
21. Kieran Hardy (Scarlets – 19 caps)
22. Ioan Lloyd (Scarlets – 4 caps)
23. Mason Grady (Cardiff Rugby – 8 caps)

Images & Content – Wales Rugby


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6 Nations

Jager and Ahern Join Ireland Squad Ahead Of Wales

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The Ireland squad re-assembled in Dublin on Sunday evening ahead of this weekend’s Guinness Men’s Six Nations Round 3 clash against Wales at Aviva Stadium (Kick-off 2.15pm).

Prop Oli Jager has joined the squad and Thomas Ahern has also linked up with Andy Farrell‘s side at the IRFU High Performance Centre this week.

Iain Henderson picked up a foot injury during Ulster’s URC game away to Ospreys on Sunday and there will be a further update later in the week.

The Ireland Match Day Squad to face Wales at Aviva Stadium will be named on Thursday at 2pm.

Ireland Squad – Wales Week: 

Backs (15):

Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht)
Harry Byrne (UCD/Leinster)
Craig Casey (Shannon/Munster)
Jack Crowley (Cork Constitution/Munster)
Ciaran Frawley (UCD/Leinster)
Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster)
Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster)
Hugo Keenan (UCD/Leinster)
Jordan Larmour (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
James Lowe (Leinster)
Stuart McCloskey (Bangor/Ulster)
Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster)
Calvin Nash (Young Munster/Munster)
Garry Ringrose (UCD/Leinster)
Jacob Stockdale (Lurgan/Ulster)

Forwards (21):

Thomas Ahern (Shannon/Munster)*
Ryan Baird (Dublin University/Leinster)
Finlay Bealham (Buccaneers/Connacht)
Tadhg Beirne (Lansdowne/Munster)
Jack Conan (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
Caelan Doris (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster)
Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster)
Iain Henderson (Academy/Ulster)
Oli Jager (Munster)*
Ronan Kelleher (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Jeremy Loughman (Garryowen/Munster)
Joe McCarthy (Dublin University/Leinster)
Peter O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster)(captain)
Tom O’Toole (Ballynahinch/Ulster)
Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster)
James Ryan (UCD/Leinster)
Dan Sheehan (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Tom Stewart (Ballynahinch/Ulster)
Nick Timoney (Banbridge/Ulster)
Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster)

*Denotes uncapped player

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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6 Nations

O’Connell Gives Update On Keenan As Ireland Return To Training

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Hugo Keenan is Ireland’s main injury concern ahead of Saturday week’s Guinness Men’s Six Nations clash with Wales. The ever-influential full-back took a blow to his left knee during the win over Italy.

Keenan sustained the injury when falling awkwardly in a 52nd-minute tackle from Italian replacement Giosuè Zilocchi. He was replaced shortly afterwards by Harry Byrne, with Jack Crowley switching to the full-back position.

The 27-year-old Dubliner has become central to Andy Farrell’s plans in a short space of time, with his 15s international debut coming just over three years ago. He has accumulated more match minutes than any other player so far during Farrell’s coaching reign.

He has started 38 of Ireland’s last 42 Test matches, and Jimmy O’Brien and Michael Lowry are the only other players who have worn the number 15 jersey during that time.

Asked about Keenan’s likely availability for the third round of the Six Nations, Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell said: “Hugo didn’t train today, but he hasn’t been ruled out for the Welsh game yet.

“He’s progressing with his rehabilitation, he was there at training today and took part in the organisational bits, but I have no full update. He’s still available for selection for Wales, but I’m not sure what will happen in the next few days.

“He plays a big role, he’s obviously been injury-free for a long time. He’s an excellent player and in full-back, covering the back-field defensively, he has a lot of work to do in attack as well, recreating our attack by moving side to side.

“There’s a lot of IP (intellectual property) there that we might miss out on if he wasn’t playing. He also plays a big leadership role for us, he’s a very smart guy.

“He’s a problem-solver within the group and highly regarded within the group. Whether he’s there or not, he’ll continue to play that role.”

Keenan has had a strong start to the tournament, with his individual highlights including his try-saving tackles on Damian Penaud, including one which drove the French dangerman back a few feet, and an electric break against Italy from Craig Casey’s kick over the top.

He has an 85.7% tackle success rate, including two dominant hits and a turnover tackle. In attack, he has had gain-line success with two-thirds of his carries in the Championship, and has the team’s best tackle evasion rate of 47.1%.

If the Leinster star is ruled out when Ireland resume their campaign next week, the versatile Ciaran Frawley, Jordan Larmour, Jacob Stockdale, Calvin Nash, or indeed Crowley, could be options to fill the full-back berth.

Larmour, who returned to international action last Sunday for the first time since 2021, made nine starts at full-back between 2018 and 2020. Farrell handed him the number 15 shirt for his first game in charge of Ireland four years ago.

Last August against Italy, Frawley made his debut as a half-time replacement for O’Brien at full-back. He has started six times in the position for Leinster this season, with Stockdale, Nash and Crowley also having provincial experience in the back-field.

As O’Brien and Mack Hansen are also injury-enforced absentees, O’Connell admits that it could provide an opportunity to build more depth in that area if Keenan is unable to recover in time.

“It’s good for us in some ways because it makes us play someone else there if he doesn’t make it,” commented the Limerick man, who is in his fourth Men’s Six Nations campaign as part of the Ireland coaching group.

“I’m not sure yet, I don’t pay as much attention to the backs, but I’m not sure yet where  Hugo is at. As I said, he was around training today, so we’d be hopeful.”

Meanwhile, Garry Ringrose is on track to play some part against Wales at the Aviva Stadium having returned to training. He missed the opening two rounds due to a shoulder injury.

“Yeah it looks like it, he trained today,” O’Connell said of Ringrose. “We didn’t do a massive session today but he trained today and was in good shape.

“No one else sat out training, no, so they’re all good to go, I believe.”

That includes captain Peter O’Mahony (calf), Tadhg Furlong (calf), and Bundee Aki (knee), who all sat out the 36-0 bonus point victory over Italy as they recovered from their respective knocks.

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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