Stuart McCloskey and John Cooney tipped for Ireland roles
"He's just been outrageous; phenomenal."
Stuart McCloskey is loved up in Ulster but Joe Schmidt never truly gave him a proper go of it. 2020 presents a big opportunity for McCloskey to force his way onto the Test scene.
Later this month, Andy Farrell will assemble the brightest and best of Irish rugby for a get-together ahead of the 2020 Six Nations. This will not be the extended squad for that tournament - there will still be comings and goings - but getting the call to join Farrell and his team will be an indicator of his thoughts.
As much as there will be talk of clean slates and new beginnings, several of the players that underwhelmed at the World Cup will be called up by Farrell. Past performances - beyond Japan - are currency still.
There have been several players, however, that missed out on Japan and who have been in top form for their provinces this season. Farrell has been doing the rounds since returning from the World Cup and he is expected to freshen up the squad in 2020.
On the latest episode of Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby, Barry Murphy, Jerry Flannery and Andrew Trimble discussed a couple of players that are playing their way into Farrell's Six Nations plans.
Flannery and Trimble discussed the concept of Farrell arriving in from the cold - having no prior experience of the Irish scene - and selecting off recent form. He would, they argued, make some different calls and there would be some experienced heads under threat.
Farrell has been in Ireland since 2016 and helped out Munster before, in the summer of that year, taking up his role as Joe Schmidt's defence coach. With Schmidt now stepping away, the first Farrell squad will give us a good insight as to where he wants to take Ireland over the next couple of years.
"John Cooney is right in the mix now," Flannery stated. "He's just been so consistent.
"Stuart McCloskey has been phenomenal. I was going to ask, do you think McCloskey could, you know, who's he competing with? Obviously Henshaw, Bundee, Rory Scannell, Chris Farrell can obviously play 12 as well. Tom Farrell has gone well too.
"But McCloskey has just been outrageous. Like [Harlequins outhalf] Marcus Smith must be like, 'Oh God!' He was just pounding him and he was making so much momentum, carrying down. I've watched a good bit of him now and he's got a lot more to his game than just a bulldozer, you know."
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) December 7, 2019
McCloskey has some serious competition for that inside centre role but it can be strongly argued that he is the form player in that position since the new season kicked off. He is aged 27 now and has only collected three Ireland caps but will be hoping that Farrell has been paying close attention and that he can use him in whatever his game-plan for 2020 is.
Sticking with Ulster, Trimble and Flannery have been impressed with Eric O'Sullivan, Sean Reidy and Marty Moore this season while there was common consensus that Leinster hooker Ronan Kelleher, if he gets back playing next month, would come into the 2020 Six Nations squad.
Elsewhere, Connacht lock Ultan Dillane is on the right path and Leinster back rows Max Deegan and Caelin Doris have both done well in the Guinness PRO14 and in Europe. Munster's Jeremy Loughman was flying, at loosehead, until he injured his ankle and Jack O'Donoghue is worth getting in to camp.
WATCH THE LATEST HOUSE OF RUGBY HERE:
SUBSCRIBE TO BAZ & ANDREW'S HOUSE OF RUGBY: https://playpodca.st/house-of-rugby-ie
Barry Murphy and Andrew Trimble are joined in the House of Rugby studio by Jerry Flannery to look back on all the latest Champions Cup action. Rory Best also drops in for a chat with Jerry.