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6 Nations

Tom O’Toole – A Tight-Head’s Journey

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Tom O’Toole is delivering an impressive body of work in this year’s Guinness Six Nations Championships but his journey to this point has included a good degree of patience, trust and faith in his ability.

Tom made his Ulster debut at that age of 19 against Edinburgh in April 2018 and the following season he would make his Champions Cup debut off the bench against the Scarlets. As a raw tight-head prop he was making steady progress pre COVID and had made 51 appearances for Ulster including 16 starts before he was called in the national squad in January 2021 on a learning brief.

O’Toole entered an Ireland squad that had Tadhg Furlong and Andrew Porter packing down on the tight-head side and would get the opportunity to square off against veteran looseheads in Cian Healy and Dave Kilcoyne.

“Tom is a tough kid, a smart rugby player well able to play the game.  He has some unique physical attributes and at that age putting him into a group of props like Tadhg (Furlong), Cian (Healy) and Killer (Dave Kilcoyne) we knew he would learn on the job.  The plan was that he would come in, gain experience from being around the group and being around the environment.  That was what we wanted to do initially when he came in as a 21-year-old,”  – Ireland scrum coach John Fogarty.

Tom O’Toole Timeline

April 2018                     Ulster debut v Edinburgh at age 19

December 2018          Champions Cup debut for Ulster v Scarlets

January 2021              Named in Ireland Senior Six Nations Squad

July 2021                       1st cap vs USA at Aviva Stadium

November 2021          Replacement v Argentina at Aviva Stadium

January 2022              Named in Ireland Senior Six Nations Squad

July 2022                      Replacement v New Zealand in 1st Test & 2 starts v Māori All Blacks

November 2022         Start v All Blacks XV & replacement v Fiji

February 2023            First Six Nations appearance – four consecutive appearances

Tom O’Toole makes his Ireland debut against the USA in the Vodafone Summer Series, Aviva Stadium in July 2021

It was not part of the plan for O’Toole to feature in the Six Nations but he would be given an opportunity to don the green jersey a few months later as he started for Ireland against the USA at the Aviva Stadium in July.  He would also feature off the bench against Argentina in the Autumn Nations Series the following November.

Again, he was named in the Ireland squad for the 2022 Guinness Six Nations Championships where his tutelage continued with Finlay Bealham back in the tight-head mix and Porter now firmly established on the loosehead side.   He would again not feature in a match day squad across the Championship.

Named in the extended squad for the 2022 Summer Tour of New Zealand, O’Toole started the opening fixture of the tour against the Maori All Blacks in Hamilton.  A perfect storm of injury and illness opened the door for him to come off the bench in the first Test against New Zealand just three days later.  He would go on to again start in the win over the Māori in Wellington.

During the 2022 November international window he started against the All Blacks XV in a tough outing for Ireland A and he would earn another cap off the bench against Fiji.

Tom O’Toole in action against France in the 2023 Guinness Six Nations Championship

Speaking of O’Toole development in national camp, Fogarty said, “I think it’s important that players have a positive experience.  You are looking at them the whole time in training, gauging how calm they are, how much they understand how we want to play the game.  In training we first got glimpses of him getting what we wanted him to deliver.  He’s a very competitive kid and he learned very very quickly.   The games in New Zealand, he learned on the job and he put himself in a great place coming into this Six Nations.

Heading into his third Six Nations campaign O’Toole was primed to deliver and has done with aplomb coming off the bench in all four games adding value at set-piece and in open play.

“Tom has had to bide his time in the wider squad, he has had to gain trust of both the coaches and his peers and that trust has been built, and in himself as well.  He has absolute belief now in what he is doing and we are seeing that on the field.  He has been a big part of what we have done to date in this year’s Six Nations,” said Fogarty.

Roman Salanoa celebrates with teammates after beating the Griquas in the 2022 Toyota Challenge in Bloemfontein, South Africa

Roman Salanoa is another young tighthead on a steep learning curve.  Limited by injury at Munster, Roman was selected to tour with Emerging Ireland last autumn and started the game against the Pumas and was a replacement against both the Griquas and the Cheetahs. He was a late call up ahead of the opening round of this year’s Guinness Six Nations on the eve of the first round fixture against Wales and has been training with the squad ever since.

Speaking of Salanoa’s development Fogarty opined, “We want him to go through the same steps.  When players come in first they want to show everything that they can do, they want to show everything about themselves, they don’t quite fully understand what they plan is or what the system is and it takes a little bit of time for them and just be nice and accurate.  Tom went through that process and Roman is in that process now and we see a lot of the same attributes in Roman that we saw in Tom and we are going to keep a very close eye on what he is doing in Munster and his development here with us and we’d like him to follow the same pathway.”

Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography


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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