Probable Ireland Six Nations squad ahead of Grand Slam defence 2 months ago

Probable Ireland Six Nations squad ahead of Grand Slam defence

Wed, Jan 17, 2018, 16:59 - Jordan Larmour named in 36-man Ireland Six Nations squad.

 Jordan Larmour remains the story but Rob Kearney should keep 30-something flames burning bright come the team announcement to face France in Ireland’s Six Nations opener in Paris on February 3rd.

That was the opening line of Gavin Cummiskey's Irish Times report last year after Ireland named their 36-man Six Nations squad.

Larmour made the headlines, the first of many last year, and Kearney kept 30-something flames burning brighter than ever and managed to hold onto his full-back spot despite a range of players breathing down his neck.

Sean Cronin and Fergus McFadden both earned recalls to Schmidt's squad last year but are both players assured of making the cut again this year?

Cronin almost certainly so with eight tries in 11 games this season while McFadden is a major doubt for the tournament as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury.

Schmidt named 36 players last year and for the purpose of this piece we'll operate under similar guidelines but we will separate players into certainties, probables and possibles.

But first, here's Schmidt's squad from last year.

IRELAND SQUAD 

FORWARDS (20)
Rory Best (Ulster), Seán Cronin (Leinster), Rob Herring (Ulster); Jack McGrath (Leinster), Dave Kilcoyne (Munster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Andrew Porter (Leinster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster), John Ryan (Munster); Devin Toner (Leinster), Ultan Dillane (Connacht), Quinn Roux (Connacht), James Ryan (Leinster); Iain Henderson (Ulster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Jordi Murphy (Ulster), Dan Leavy (Leinster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Jack Conan (Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster).

BACKS (16)
Luke McGrath (Leinster), Kieran Marmion (Connacht), Conor Murray(Munster); Joey Carbery (Munster), Ian Keatley (Munster), Johnny Sexton (Leinster); Rory Scannell (Munster), Bundee Aki (Connacht), Chris Farrell (Munster), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster); Keith Earls (Munster), Fergus McFadden (Leinster), Jacob Stockdale (Ulster), Andrew Conway (Munster); Jordan Larmour (Leinster), Rob Kearney (Leinster).

Certainties (26)

  • Rory Best
  • Sean Cronin
  • Jack McGrath
  • Cian Healy
  • Andrew Porter
  • Tadhg Furlong
  • Devin Toner
  • Tadhg Beirne
  • James Ryan
  • Iain Henderson * (thumb injury)
  • Peter O'Mahony
  • Dan Leavy
  • Sean O'Brien * (broken arm)
  • CJ Stander
  • Josh van der Flier
  • Conor Murray
  • Joey Carbery
  • Johnny Sexton
  • Bundee Aki
  • Robbie Henshaw
  • Garry Ringrose
  • Keith Earls
  • Jacob Stockdale
  • Jordan Larmour
  • Andrew Conway
  • Rob Kearney

 

*If fit.

Analysis: The core group of a Grand Slam team will naturally pick itself and a lot of the names above do exactly that.

Garry Ringrose (injured) and Tadhg Beirne (former Scarlet) are new additions here and it's very hard to see either of them not being included in the squad later this month with Ringrose largely viewed as Ireland's first-choice outside centre while Beirne impressed during the summer and in the November internationals and has arguably been the form forward in the PRO14 this season.

Elsewhere it's relatively simply. Jack McGrath and Cian Healy are still the best loosehead props in the country. Tadhg Furlong and Andrew Porter should rightfully be the first choice tighthead props and James Ryan, Devin Toner, Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne are the four best locks.

Basically, it's hard to see the aforementioned not playing some sort of role during this year's championship.

Probables (10)

  • Finlay Bealham
  • David Kilcoyne
  • Niall Scannell
  • Quinn Roux
  • Jack Conan
  • Rhys Ruddock
  • Kieran Marmion * (ankle injury)
  • Luke McGrath
  • Ross Byrne
  • Will Addison

Analysis: The probables are largely those that will provide cover for Schmidt off the bench and what's interesting here is that there are already 36 players between the certainties and the probables.

Ireland are permitted to take a squad of just 31 players to the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year which means five players from the above list won't make the plane to Asia.

We'll start here with the props Finlay Bealham and David Kilcoyne. Bealham has enjoyed a fine season with Connacht thus far and should surpass John Ryan and Marty Moore as Ireland's third-choice tighthead, while Connacht prop Denis Buckley may have closed the gap between him and Kilcoyne but the Munster prop has generally been favoured by Schmidt and thus is a probable choice to make the squad.

Quinn Roux should continue to be called upon in the second-row after he was named in the last few squads by Schmidt while Ruddock and Conan are generally viewed as the respective backups at blindside flanker and number eight respectively.

John Cooney has been superb for Ulster over the last 18 months but Marmion and McGrath have both been preferred to the former Leinster scrum-half by Schmidt and should both make the squad if fit, with Marmion currently recovering from an ankle injury.

Meanwhile Ross Byrne made his Ireland debut during the autumn and continues to impress for Leinster in the absence of Johnny Sexton while Will Addison has been a revelation at Ulster this season and his versatility should make him a very strong contender to make the squad.

Possibles (17)

  • Denis Buckley
  • Rob Herring
  • John Ryan
  • Ultan Dillane
  • Billy Holland
  • Jordi Murphy
  • Tommy O'Donnell
  • Paul Boyle
  • Nick Timoney
  • John Cooney
  • Jack Carty
  • Cian Kelleher
  • Stuart McCloskey
  • Tom Farrell
  • Chris Farrell
  • Tiernan O'Halloran
  • Simon Zebo

Analysis: Zebo would almost be a certainty to make the squad if it not for the fact he was playing in Paris while Tom Farrell has been hailed as the PRO14 player of the season in some quarters and yet may be the fifth or even sixth choice option in the centres.

It's a testament to the depth in Irish Rugby that you could form a competitive team with the names above but realistically only a select number here will be called with further possibilities potentially opening if injuries occur.

Sean O'Brien, Marmion and Henderson are all recovering from injury so there could be room for some movement while Roux and one of the Farrell's could potentially fill the final centre spot.

A lot of talent and only so many places that can be filled. Good problems to have for Joe Schmidt and potential major problems for those on the fringes of a Grand Slam winning side.