The biggest and most surprising calls in Ireland's World Cup training squad
Andy Farrell has a lot of credit in the bank. A LOT.
Ireland have named a 42-man training squad for the World Cup and will meet up in June to begin preparations for the big dance.
When you step back and take a look at it, there are no ground-quaking shocks. Joey Carbery and Jordan Larmour are the biggest casualties but they've been dropped from Farrell squads before. Jean Kleyn and Mike Haley must have felt they had chances, after fine seasons with Munster, but Farrell has never awarded a Test cap to either.
We will dig a little deeper into the marginal calls - those final nine squad places - below but, first, here is what Farrell has to say:
"We're looking forward to assembling in Dublin next month to hit the ground running as a group. It’s pleasing to see that selection has been as tough as ever, as real quality players have initially been unfortunate to have missed out. I’m sure that camp will be competitive enough as we grow minds and bodies and look to push on with our game from last season.
"In the meantime, it’s important that we freshen up for a busy and exciting summer ahead, so we’re ready to get to work on June 18th and build towards the Bank of Ireland Nations Series and to France beyond that."
Munster lads the unluckiest of all
In terms of the provincial breakdown of player selection for Ireland's World Cup training squad, Leinster hold sway again:
- Leinster - 21
- Munster - 9
- Ulster - 7
- Connacht - 5
Andy Farrell has selected the bulk of the players that delivered Ireland a 2022 Triple Crown, beat the All Blacks in New Zealand, went unbeaten through last November's Bank of Ireland Series and delivered the 2023 Six Nations Grand Slam.
Along the way, the wider squad has integrated the likes of Cian Prendergast, Jack Crowley, Joe McCarthy and Jimmy O'Brien, as well as the uncapped quartet of Tom Stewart, Ciarán Frawley, Calvin Nash and Jamie Osborne. Farrell has not called in any player that he already has not had a decent bit of interaction and training with.
That means tough luck for the Munster and Connacht players that must have felt they had made a late selection surge thanks to their URC deeds while Leinster wobbled on both trophy fronts. Conor Oliver, Niall Murray, John Hodnett, Jeremy Loughman, Shane Daly, Antoine Frisch, Kleyn and Haley were surely in the coaches' conversations but it was not to be.
In terms of surprises, I will go with three broader brush strokes. The first was Farrell selecting only 42 players rather than 45, which had been reported at the weekend. The Ireland coach has clarity on how he wants his final squad to look like and did not seem interested in any late audition pieces.
Next up it was URC champions Munster getting just nine players into the squad. Mike Haley could not have done more to add to his one Test cap, won back in 2019, all season but Farrell has Hugo Keenan as his 15 and seems content with having Jimmy O'Brien then Mack Hansen as covering fullback. Jeremy Loughman misses out to Munster teammate Dave Kilcoyne while Jean Kleyn has an excellent season yet misses out to Kieran Treadwell and a player with 11 second row starts in his professional career, Joe McCarthy.
The final surprise is the collective omission of James Hume, Rob Baloucoune and Mike Lowry. Taken individually, each guy missing out may not generate any headlines. However, given how well set the trio looked a year ago, it is a shame they are now on the outside, looking in.
World Cup hopefuls with the most to prove
If you were to ask me right now to name a 33-man Ireland squad for the World Cup, I would be confident of getting 31 players correct. This is no great feat as Andy Farrell's selection tendencies show you the type of players he leans towards.
The only two coin-flip selections, in the final squad, would be Cian Prendergast or Gavin Coombes for the last back row spot. Both lads can cover second row, if needed. I feel Prendergast still holds the edge here, in the eyes of Farrell, but Coombes going the full 80 in the URC Final, and coming up with that crucial block on Manie Libbok's kick, will surely stand to him.
The other big call is in the backline, and it may depend on how the other centres fare over the summer and if they can stay healthy. If Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw are all in good nick, come mid August, Stuart McCloskey could miss out and leave the door open for Keith Earls.
Here are the players that will go into the first day of World Cup training camp, on June 18, with the most to do in order to change up the order for Andy Farrell & Co.:
- Tom Stewart, Joe McCarthy, Cian Prendergast, Gavin Coombes, Caolin Blade, Ciaran Frawley, Jamie Osborne, Calvin Nash, Keith Earls, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale.
Jacob Stockdale last played a Test match for Ireland in June 2021 - scoring a try in a win over Japan - yet he gets into the training group ahead of Larmour, Baloucoune and Shane Daly, who just had his best season in Munster red.
That selection, more than any other, will tell you something about Farrell's belief in grit, resilience and character. At one stage of his career, the Ulster winger looked set to smash the Irish try-scoring record. Injuries led to confidence faltering and Stockdale of today is not the same guy he was when he burst onto the scene.
At every camp he has been invited to, though, he has done whatever has been asked of him - from repping opposition backs and holding tackle pads - without complaint. He may still miss out on the final World Cup squad but he has something that so many others don't - a chance to impress.
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