Three players locked in Ireland jerseys after Thomond Park trial
For Ireland head coach Andy Farrell, the performances of so many big players will have been heartening.
This evening, ahead of Monday's official announcement, 30+ players will find out if they have made the Ireland squad for the opening rounds of the 2021 Guinness Six Nations.
Ireland play Wales and France on consecutive Sundays in early February and those are the games Farrell will be selecting his squad for. While those fixtures may come too soon for the likes of James Lowe and Tadhg Furlong, there are lots of players vaulting their arms in the air for selection.
While Irish supporters will be looking closely, on Monday, to see if much new blood is included, Farrell may use the developmental card again to draft in the likes of Ryan Baird, Gavin Coombes and Craig Casey. Of that trio, Baird has the best shout for a fully fledged call-up while Ulster tight-head Tom O'Toole may get the nod too.
It would not be a Six Nations without fretting over whether Johnny Sexton is fully fit for the championship. The Ireland captain looked to be holding his hamstring during Leinster's 13-10 win over Munster and although his coach, Leo Cullen said Sexton being subbed off was "precautionary", there is set to be a scan when he links up with the national squad.
Connacht are in action against Ospreys on Sunday afternoon and both Leinster and Munster have Guinness PRO14 fixtures to catch up on next week, but the Thomond Park league clash, on Saturday, was effectively the last trial match before Farrell chose his squad.
Most of Saturday's plaudits were heading Munster's way, until Ross Byrne and Hugo Keenan combined to put Jordan Larmour away for what proved to be a late matchwinner. Two missed penalties by JJ Hanrahan proved costly as Munster again fell to their old rivals.
From a purely Six Nations perspective, though, there was a lot to be excited about, on both sides of the park. Before we move on to the three players that all but guaranteed themselves a spot in the starting XV for Wales, on February 7, a few words about Tadhg Beirne.
The Munster forward revels in playing against his former side, and Saturday night was no different. Beirne scored a try, carried well and secured three turnovers during the game, with two of them coming inches from the Munster line.
The roar he let out after securing that second crucial turnover, in the second half, looked to be a big, big moment until Leinster produced their magic near the end.
Beirne will be pushing the likes of Baird, Iain Henderson and Quinn Roux hard for that second row slot alongside a man that is peaking at the right time.
That man is James Ryan. 16 carries and 29 successful tackles on a night when he silenced those that may have felt his influence on this Leinster team was waning.
In truth, Ryan has not exerted his will over games in the exacting way we have come to expect in the past few years, but he was back to his best at Thomond Park. Ryan and his packmates often set Munster ball-carriers back on their heels with double team tackles and he made a couple of crucial lineout claims. As if it was not clear before, Ryan will be starting in Cardiff.
Heartening to see this guy looking back to his best. Made some sniping runs and was very much up-tempo in the first half. His dart off the back of a Munster lineout gained his side front-foot ball and momentum before Tadhg Beirne's try.
The second half saw him control the tempo for his side as they held onto their lead until Leinster conjured up the matchwinner. Made some really big clear-outs and tackles in defence and harried Luke McGrath at the scrum whenever he got the chance. Also secured a turnover for his side when he swotted the ball away from Garry Ringrose as he played scrumhalf at one ruck, in the second half.
There are so many Irish centres to choose from right now, but Henshaw is having a great season and again showed his class against Munster. Is playing with real confidence and making a lot of smart running lines and strong carries.
With Garry Ringrose returning to the fray, too, it may be Bundee Aki that misses out on that Ireland XV for the Wales game.