Selecting 42 players for Ireland's touring squad to New Zealand
"We’ll get a few bolters, I think - guys that can make a huge difference. That’s what we need over the next 18 months."
Not long after his side lifted the Triple Crown at Aviva Stadium, on Saturday, Johnny Sexton was fielding questions about possible inclusions in an Ireland squad to tour New Zealand. Such is the rugby in this packed fixture calendar times.
This summer, Ireland are set to bring an extended squad to New Zealand, for three Tests against the All Blacks and a midweek fixture against the Maori All Blacks. Ireland coach Andy Farrell is expected to bring between 40 and 42 players.
And while one might think Farrell's task would be made simpler by the extra players that could travel, there is still a clatter of talented stars that will have to sit this one out.
On the latest House of Rugby [LISTEN from 21:25 below], Greg O'Shea and Jason Hennessy were joined by Leinster hooker James Tracy, and they discussed possible bolters for Ireland's summer squad.
Uncapped players that could make Ireland squad
For the fourth and fifth round of the Six Nations, Andy Farrell had 35 players in his main squad, then used the Ireland U20s, Munster loosehead Jeremy Loughman and Leinster locks Ross Molony and Joe McCarthy for training sessions.
Ryan Baird [back] and James Ryan [concussion] will both be hopeful of touring New Zealand in the summer. With Keith Earls, Jordan Larmour, Rónan Kelleher and Andrew Porter all likely to return and play before the season is over, even picking 42 players would seem a tricky task.
"We have 14 or 15 games left to the World Cup," says Jason Hennessy. "After the summer, we just have Autumn Nations, then Six Nations and we're into warm-up games. So this is a real opportunity to take a look at new lads during a three, four week tour to New Zealand."
While Hennessy advocated for Connacht flanker Conor Oliver to get a call-up, and Greg O'Shea mentioned Munster duo Gavin Coombes and Fineen Wycherley, James Tracy made the case for Leinster teammates Ross Molony, Joe McCarthy and Ross Byrne. He adds:
"It's New Zealand you're touring, so you don't want to get hosed. I'd say it will be a mixture of blooding some young guys and a good few experienced lads."
Injuries will, of course and unfortunately, affect whatever Andy Farrell's final selection will be, but we have selected a 42-man squad that has that mix of veterans, trusted starters, fringe players and next-in-line prospects.
There are twists and turns left in this season, but if Ireland can bring most of these men [below], they could well take at least one of the three Tests against the All Blacks.
POSSIBLE IRELAND SQUAD [Bolters in italics]
HOOKERS: Rónan Kelleher, Dan Sheehan, Rob Herring
LOOSEHEADS: Andrew Porter, Cian Healy, Dave Kilcoyne, Jeremy Loughman
TIGHTHEADS: Tadhg Furlong, Finlay Bealham, Tom O'Toole
LOCKS: Tadhg Beirne, Iain Henderson, James Ryan, Ryan Baird, Kieran Treadwell, Fineen Wycherley
BACK-ROWS: Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan, Peter O'Mahony, Nick Timoney, Gavin Coombes, Cian Prendergast
SCRUM-HALVES: Jamison Gibson Park, Conor Murray, Craig Casey
OUT-HALVES: Johnny Sexton, Joey Carbery, Harry Byrne
CENTRES: Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Hume, Ciarán Frawley
WINGERS: James Lowe, Mack Hansen, Andrew Conway, Jordan Larmour, Robert Baloucoune, Keith Earls
FULLBACK: Hugo Keenan, Mike Lowry