IRELAND COACH JOE Schmidt named his first squad proper this afternoon ahead of the November internationals in Dublin, with few surprises.
Still, there were several talking points thrown up by the selection and here are some of the more pertinent ones in our minds.
1. Form is important
The majority of the close calls have gone the way of players in form and if that policy continues throughout Schmidt’s reign, then Ireland will be in a good place. Out wide, Andrew Trimble’s inconsistent start to the season means he loses out to Dave Kearney, who has been lively for Leinster.
At lock, Devin Toner’s excellence for the Pro12 champions sees him edge out Donncha O’Callaghan, while Dave Kilcoyne’s relatively slow start to the season has resulted in him being excluded. That said, the likes of James Coughlan and Gordon D’Arcy have not been at their best but still find themselves in the squad.
2. The exiles have a way to go yet
Niall Morris of Leicester will be gutted tonight having missed out on selection, but the 25-year-old’s time at international level will surely come soon. For now, the fullback must focus on continuing his good form for Leicester in the Premiership, forcing Schmidt to re-think his choices in the back three.
Similarly, Robin Copeland’s surge of powerful performances recently have come too late. The Cardiff Blues No. 8 will be hoping to continue displaying his pace and ball carrying ability in the coming weeks as Schmidt begins to take more notice.
3. It’s not going to be easy to pick a captain
There are several options for Schmidt, offering various strengths and styles of leadership. Jamie Heaslip will feel that he has done enough to retain the captaincy, but the experience of Paul O’Connell or Brian O’Driscoll will surely be tempting.
Paul O’Connell offers proven leadership skills. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan.
Rory Best would offer something different with his ability to lead by example, while Peter O’Mahony is also an inspirational presence on the pitch. If Schmidt is choosing his skipper on the grounds of importance to the team, then Jonny Sexton and Sean O’Brien have good shouts. Who would you pick?
4. Ireland’s propping options are improving
The fact that Kilcoyne could be left out of this squad point to the improved strength in Ireland’s propping department. Martin Moore and James Cronin’s emergence at provincial level bodes well for the future too, with some commentators making the case for their inclusion this time around. Brett Wilkinson has been superb for Connacht in the Heineken Cup too, and Ireland’s loose head stocks look healthy.
Over on the tight head side, there are three familiar faces but the improvement shown by Stephen Archer at scrum time this season is encouraging. Mike Ross’ expected recovery from a hamstring injury remains vital nonetheless. Rory Best’s throwing is still a worry but he has been remarkable in open play for Ulster, while Sean Cronin offers true dynamism in reserve.
5. We have the ability to win at least two games
When you make your way through the list of stars in Ireland’s squad, it is difficult not to be positive for the test games ahead. Tommy Bowe, Brian O’Driscoll, Jonny Sexton, Sean O’Brien, Paul O’Connell, Cian Healy; these are world-class players who would walk into most international teams.
While this squad announcement may not have captured the imagination of the rugby public, it is stacked with talent. The hope is that Schmidt, along with Less Kiss and John Plumtree, will get more from these excellent players at international level. There has long been the feeling that Ireland were not the sum of their individual parts, but there is reason to be optimistic for the three games ahead.
What did you learn from the Ireland squad announcement today? Can we start to make any assumptions about how Ireland will perform?
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