Not a single Munster player is guaranteed of starting for Ireland 2 months ago

Not a single Munster player is guaranteed of starting for Ireland

Four Munster players started Ireland's World Cup quarter final against New Zealand with another four on the replacements bench.

Heading into his first Six Nations campaign as Ireland head coach, Andy Farrell will have seen his fair share of games. Anything he has missed out will be packaged into video clips for his viewing while the likes of Matt Catt, Simon Easterby, Richie Murphy and John Fogarty have been visible presences at Guinness PRO14 and Champions Cup games.

At present, they have a squad of unbeaten Leinster players to choose from, several in-form Ulster stars and then... then it gets complicated. Munster have won two of their last eight games and are on the brink of Champions Cup elimination. Connacht are finding this season even tougher and their struggles were highlighted by their inability to break through the 13 men of Toulouse in their weekend loss at The Sportsground.

In terms of the national team, though, Munster's poor run of form is more concerning. There were 12 Munster players called in for Farrell's mid season get-together as opposed to five from Connacht.

Munster's travails and Andy Farrell's first Ireland squad as head coach were discussed on the latest episode of Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby with Barry Murphy and Jerry Flannery having a lot to say on both matters.

Munster

"Everything was building towards that Munster game," says Flannery, "and I thought they could get something there but the gulf is just widening now with teams that have more money, and more quality. That was apparent [at the weekend]. Apart from the Leinster game, you could see that across the three games the other provinces played in."

Farrell is expected to name his Ireland squad, on Wednesday, for the opening two rounds of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations. If he follows a similar line to Joe Schmidt in 2019, that squad could have as many as 38 players included.

Flannery is interested to see the new Ireland back row and back three compositions and who Farrell goes with at 9 and 10. He adds:

"Tadhg Beirne's injured now, so who are the locks? You'd imagine, at the moment, that the locks would be Ryan and Henderson.

"Tadhg Furlong is probably nailed in there at tighthead, maybe with Andrew Porter in behind him. Hooker... hooker is really up in the air. I still think Niall Scannell is probably there, just because Leinster are rotating so much between Tracy, Kelleher, Cronin."

Schmidt started Peter O'Mahony, CJ Stander, Conor Murray and Keith Earls for Ireland's World Cup quarter final exit to the All Blacks, last October. It is by no means disrespectful to that quartet to say that none are guaranteed to start the Six Nations opener against Scotland.

As for the other Munster contenders, Niall Scannell looks set to be up against Rob Herring for the No.2 jersey and, if he gets back for Leinster this weekend, Ronan Kelleher. Dave Kilcoyne will push Cian Healy again but Jack McGrath has been in good form for Ulster.

Jean Kleyn won't start unless James Ryan or Iain Henderson are injured while Chris Farrell is unlikely to get in ahead of Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw and, in particular, Garry Ringrose.

The one Munster player that really should be starting against the Scots is Andrew Conway. The winger, who scored another class try at the weekend, must be the frontrunner for the No.14 jersey but, if he does get it, that probably means Keith Earls missing out.

Conor Murray has John Cooney in hot pursuit while Farrell could choose three from Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris and Max Deegan for the Scotland game with strong justification.

During House of Rugby, Flannery stated that for Munster to win trophies again they need '7 or 8' international starters in Ireland's strongest XV. Come February, we could see an Ireland team with just two or three Munster men.


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Barry Murphy and Jerry Flannery are in the House of Rugby studio reflect on a tough weekend for three of the Irish provinces, lavish more praise on Leinster and look ahead to Andy Farrell naming his first Guinness Six Nations squad.