November Squad Talking Points: Back three stocktaking and mixed news for aspiring Ireland tourists

November Squad Talking Points: Back three stocktaking and mixed news for aspiring Ireland tourists

EARLIER EARLIER ANDY Farrell named two squads for the upcoming November international window; a 37-man Irish selection for the three friendlies at the Aviva Stadium and a 12-man Irish A-panel for the clash against a New Zealand XV.

The Ireland A game takes place at the RDS on November 4 before Farrell’s senior group take on the Springboks the following day, followed by further Dublin dates with Fiji (November 12) and Australia (November 19).

As always, Farrell’s choices provided plenty of conversation:

Inventory back three

The big news at Ireland defence, and perhaps the squad as a whole, is the return of Jacob Stockdale and the absence of James Lowe.

We start with Stockdale, a surprise inclusion in the 37-man senior squad. The last time we saw Stockdale in a green jersey was in July 2021 when the Ulster airman sat out a rugby game between September last year and the start of the current URC season due to an ankle injury. A new ankle problem picked up in round three against Leinster seemed to have dashed his hopes of a speedy international return but he’s making the cut and if he can prove his fitness he’ll provide a real boost.

It remains to be seen if he can find his best form again, but Stockdale is a deadly finisher. The 26-year-old has been capped 35 times but is already sixth on Ireland’s all-time top try scorers list (19 tries).

His return coincides with Lowe’s absence, freeing up a spot on the wing. The Leinster man has overcome a rocky start to his Test career to become a vital part of Ireland’s system and a guaranteed starter – his left shoe is a real weapon in terms of Ireland’s kicking game.

With Leinster’s Jordan Larmour and Munster pair Keith Earls and Andrew Conway also absent, Mack Hansen will look to build on a promising start to his Ireland career. The versatile Jimmy O’Brien has continued his impressive form with Leinster, while 25-year-old Calvin Nash has joined after his tour with Emerging Ireland. Robert Baloucoune has already been capped twice and offers an electric pace on the wing that few of his teammates can match.

Calvin Nash was called up to the senior team.

Credit: Evan Treacy/INPHO

Hugo Keenan has firmly established himself as Farrell’s first-choice defenseman, but with not a minute under his belt this season, it’s not yet clear if he’ll be ready to face the Springboks on November 5. Hansen and O’Brien can both play at 15, while Ulster’s Mike Lowry is also coming into the November window on form.

Half back depth is still a gray area

We know that Johnny Sexton and Jamison Gibson-Park are firmly established as Farrell’s first-choice out-half couple, but the pecking order remains a little unclear looking beyond the Leinster duo.

At half-time, Joey Carbery will be looking to put up good minutes after an encouraging display for Munster against the Bulls last time out. He is well positioned as a backup for Sexton but is hoping for a great season free of injury to try and close that gap ahead of next year’s World Cup.

The race behind him is even more fascinating. Ciarán Frawley impressed against the Maori All Blacks in the summer and after missing the Emerging Ireland Tour through injury he is hoping to take the next step in his career in the coming weeks and win a first friendly. The versatile Leinster defender appears to have jumped ahead of Harry Byrne, who is out again with an unfortunately timed injury. At just 23, Byrne still has plenty of time to prove his international credentials, but missing out on that international window is another heavy blow.

The fact that Munster’s Ben Healy and Connacht captain Jack Carty are both absent is an indication of Farrell’s high regard for Frawley – the 24-year-old has started just two games at 10 for Leinster since the start of last season.

The notable omission from Scrum-Half is Nathan Doak, who is also omitted from the Ireland A-Panel despite his strong performances on the Emerging Ireland tour. Still only 20 years old, Doak has had plenty of senior rugby under his belt with Ulster.

Nathan Doak

Nathan Doak is out despite a strong tour with Emerging Ireland.

Credit: Steve Haag/INPHO

Instead, Farrell remains loyal to the trusted trio of Jamison Gibson-Park, Conor Murray and Craig Casey and it will be interesting to see how he manages his options in that department over the course of the three friendlies.

Gibson-Park is vital to Ireland’s high-speed game plan but will be cold as he is yet to feature for Leinster this season through injury. Casey also emerged as a doubt after needing a scan of a groin problem this week but hopes to challenge Murray and add to his five senior caps. At 33, Murray is no longer the most important man at nine, but his experience was a valuable asset off the bench and he is still a valued member of Farrell’s squad.

While some fans would love to see Ulster’s John Cooney back in the fold, that remains an unlikely prospect given his last cap for Ireland comes in 2020.

Mixed results for the emerging Ireland group

It’s safe to say that the recent Emerging Ireland tour is divided. The author himself felt that it would be beneficial for some players and less so for others. A player like Baloucoune would certainly have been better served helping Ulster in a tight URC derby against Leinster, but Jack Crowley appears to have benefited from minutes he most likely would not have played with Munster during that period.

Today’s roster announcement makes it harder to read just how beneficial this three-game tour has been.

Doak shone for Emerging Ireland but his name never featured in either the senior team or the Ireland senior team. Crowley may have looked further from the Senior Honors ahead of the Emerging Ireland tour but is included in the Ireland A-squad.

Tom Ahrn

Tom Ahern was named in the Irish A panel.

Credit: Ben Brady/INPHO

It is interesting to note how Farrell is also approaching the development of two of the standout players for Emerging Ireland in the promising back-row pairing of Joe McCarthy and Tom Ahern.

McCarthy is named in the senior group and is hoping to win his first international cap, having previously trained with the squad and toured New Zealand. Ahern, 22, is a year older than McCarthy and has more experience at provincial level (22 caps against 13) but is being held back in the senior squad. McCarthy is the only fully fit second row in the senior group, with James Ryan (knee), Tadhg Beirne (groin) and Kieran Treadwell (chest) all recovering from punches and Iain Henderson is ruled out.

The Ireland A panel encompasses an intriguing mix of youth and experience. Marty Moore joins this group eight years after his last cap in Ireland, as does Dave Kilcoyne, a 48-cap veteran who missed the end of last season through injury. Munster loosehead Josh Wycherley will have to wait for his next taste of international lineup.

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Rising Irish tourist Cian Prendergast – who played twice against the Maori All Blacks in the summer – joins the senior team, while Max Deegan and Scott Penny are named in Ireland’s senior squad.

Ulster’s James Hume had almost considered challenging Farrell’s senior centers before injuring his groin on the New Zealand tour and is included as an A player as he attempts to play his opening minutes of the season.

Ireland squad

back three: Robert Baloucoune (Ulster) 2 internationals, Mack Hansen (Connacht) 6 internationals, Hugo Keenan (Leinster) 23 internationals, Michael Lowry (Ulster) 1 international, Calvin Nash (Munster) without an international, Jimmy O’Brien (Leinster) without an international, Jacob Stockdale (Ulster) 35 capsules

Midfield: Robbie Henshaw (Leinster) 60 caps, Stuart McCloskey (Ulster) 6 caps, Garry Ringrose (Leinster) 44 caps

Out halves: Joey Carbery (Munster) 35 caps, Ciarán Frawley (Leinster) no cap, Johnny Sexton (Leinster) 108 caps – captain

Scrum halves: Craig Casey (Munster) 5 caps, Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) 20 caps, Conor Murray (Munster) 99 caps

Props: Finlay Bealham (Connacht) 25 caps, Tadhg Furlong (Leinster) 60 caps, Cian Healy (Leinster) 118 caps, Jeremy Loughman (Munster) no cap, Tom O’Toole (Ulster) 3 caps, Andrew Porter (Leinster) 46 caps

Hookers: Dave Heffernan (Connacht) 7 caps, Rob Herring (Ulster) 28 caps, Dan Sheehan (Leinster) 10 caps

Castles: Tadhg Beirne (Munster) 33 caps, Joe McCarthy (Leinster) no cap, James Ryan (Leinster) 46 caps, Kieran Treadwell (Ulster) 8 caps

Back rows: Ryan Baird (Leinster) 8 internationals, Jack Conan (Leinster) 30 internationals, Gavin Coombes (Münster) 2 internationals, Caelan Doris (Leinster) 20 internationals, Peter O’Mahony (Münster) 87 internationals, Cian Prendergast (Connacht) without an international, Nick Timoney (Ulster) 2 caps, Josh van der Flier (Leinster) 43 caps

Ireland A field:

Tom Ahern (Münster), Diarmuid Barron (Münster), Caolin Blade (Connacht) 1 international, Jack Crowley (Münster), Shane Daly (Münster) 2 internationals, Max Deegan (Leinster) 1 international, James Hume (Ulster) 3 internationals, Dave Kilcoyne (Munster) 48 caps, Marty Moore (Ulster) 10 caps, Jamie Osbourne (Leinster), Scott Penny (Leinster), Roman Salanoa (Munster)

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