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Andy Farrell will be hoping for some lucky breaks with injuries ahead of Ireland’s autumn campaign

Jamison Gibson-Park and Hugo Keenan have not played since series win over All Blacks

The true health of the Irish team which puts its hard-earned world number one ranking on the line against the world champions South Africa in just over a fortnight will probably be determined over the next week or so.

Jamison Gibson-Park (hamstring) and Hugo Keenan (abdomen and knee) have not played since they were ever-presents in Ireland’s series win over the All Blacks in July, while James Ryan (knee), Tadhg Beirne (groin), Josh van der Flier (ankle), Jack Conan (eye) and Craig Casey (groin) were all reported to have incurred niggling injuries last weekend by their provinces.

As it is, of the three naturalised Kiwis who have become key components in this Irish team and the series win over the All Blacks, Ireland are already without the injured James Lowe and suspended Bundee Aki. Gibson-Park’s pace to the breakdown and swift delivery set much of Ireland’s high tempo but he has been sidelined for Leinster this season by a hamstring injury picked up in training.

He is not expected to feature for Leinster against Munster this Saturday, and were he ruled out of the South African game a fortnight later it would leave Farrell with a choice between the greater experience and physicality of Conor Murray against the Springboks or his lively fellow Munster nine Casey.


Either way Murray, who goes into this Bank of Ireland Nations Series on 99 caps for his country, looks sure to become Ireland’s eighth centurion against the World champions.

As for Keenan, he has become one of the first names on the Irish team sheet in many ways since making his debut in the rearranged post-Covid Six Nations game against Italy in October 2020. The 26-year-old has started all but one of Ireland’s 24 Tests since that day, and 17 of the last 18 at fullback.

So durable and dependable has Keenan been that there is no established understudy/alternative. Michael Lowry is the only other player to occupy the 15 jersey in Ireland’s last 18 Tests, when scoring two tries in last season’s facile Six Nations win at home to Italy.

Lowry is included in this squad, as is Jimmy O’Brien, who has been playing at fullback for Leinster in Keenan’s absence. Mack Hansen is considered an option at fullback, but has only ever played on the wing for Connacht and Ireland.

In his second coming as an international, Lowe 2.0 as it were, the prolific Leinster winger’s much improved defence has allowed his potent carrying, offloading, finishing and big left boot to become key weapons in Ireland’s arsenal.

Perhaps the loss of his long-distance kicking game added to the coaches’ desire to have Jacob Stockdale reintroduced to the squad. Stockdale last played for Ireland in the July 2021 win over Japan at an empty Aviva Stadium, since when he has only played four games for Ulster due to a serious ankle injury, and then another unrelated ankle injury in the province’s recent URC game against Leinster.

But Stockdale had looked sharp in his three comeback appearances, and aside from having a proven strike record at international level (24 tries in 48 Tests) he is the only left-footed kicker in the Irish backs apart from Casey.

Given the additional loss of the injured Keith Earls from those who played on the summer tour, as well as the continuing absence of Andrew Conway, there is also a welcome return for Robert Baloucoune, after he was cruelly ruled out of the New Zealand trip with a torn tendon in his hip flexor in Ulster’s URC semi-final defeat by the Stormers last June. Reacquainted with the Irish set-up on the Emerging Ireland tour to South Africa, all things being equal he is probably the best finisher in Irish rugby.

There is also a place among the outside backs for Calvin Nash, after he impressed Andy Farrell and co on the Emerging Ireland tour. The other five uncapped players in the full squad – Ciarán Frawley, Jeremy Loughman, Joe McCarthy, Jimmy O’Brien and Cian Prendergast – were all part of the summer tour to New Zealand.

They are all likely to feature for the Ireland A side in their game against a strong looking All Blacks XV, featuring experienced Test players such as Damian McKenzie, TJ Perenara and Patrick Tuipulotu, which takes place at the RDS the night before the first meeting with the Springboks in six seasons. They will all be hopeful of making their Test debuts in the second game against Fiji before Ireland finish the series with a first meeting against Australia since the series win Down Under in the summer of 2018.

With Rassie Easmus among the Springboks’ travelling party and permitted his touchline presence on match days after completing his suspension for that infamous video rant after the first Test of the Lions series in South Africa, and an All Blacks XV also in town, it promised to be quite a week.

Despite all the injuries among the backs, all 21 forwards who featured on the summer tour are retained in this squad. And given a clean bill of health it is conceivable that Farrell could retain the entire pack which started all three Tests of the series against the All Blacks.

Tom Ahern, Diarmuid Barron, Caolin Blade, Jack Crowley, Shane Daly, Max Deegan, James Hume, Jamie Osborne, Scott Penny and Roman Salanoa, as well as experienced frontrow forwards Dave Kilcoyne and Marty Moore, provide an additional panel of players for the ‘A’ fixture. In the absence of Aki, midfield looks a little thin, and it would be no surprise if Hume is ultimately added to the full squad.

The IRFU have secured Bank of Ireland as the title sponsor for Ireland’s Nations Series fixtures and also the pre-World Cup warm-up games in August 2023 at the Aviva Stadium against Italy (August 5th) and England (August 19th).

Ireland squad

Forwards (21)

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

Props: Finlay Bealham (Connacht, 25), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster, 60), Cian Healy (Leinster, 118), Jeremy Loughman (Munster, uncapped), Tom O’Toole (Ulster, 3), Andrew Porter (Leinster, 46).

Locks: Tadhg Beirne (Munster, 33), Joe McCarthy (Leinster, uncapped), James Ryan (Leinster, 46), Kieran Treadwell (Ulster, 8).

Backrows: Ryan Baird (Leinster, 8), Jack Conan (Leinster, 30), Gavin Coombes (Munster, 2), Caelan Doris (Leinster, 20), Peter O’Mahony (Munster, 87), Cian Prendergast (Connacht, uncapped), Nick Timoney (Ulster, 2), Josh van der Flier (Leinster, 43).

Backs (16)

Scrumhalves: Craig Casey (Munster, 5), Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster, 20), Conor Murray (Munster, 99).

Outhalves: Joey Carbery (Munster, 35), Ciarán Frawley (Leinster, uncapped), Johnny Sexton (Leinster, 108) (capt).

Centres: Robbie Henshaw (Leinster, 60), Stuart McCloskey (Ulster, 6), Garry Ringrose (Leinster, 44).

Outside backs: Robert Baloucoune (Ulster, 2), Mack Hansen (Connacht, 6), Hugo Keenan (Leinster, 23), Michael Lowry (Ulster, 1), Calvin Nash (Munster, uncapped), Jimmy O’Brien (Leinster, uncapped), Jacob Stockdale (Ulster, 35).

Ireland ‘A’ Panel

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


Friday, November 4th

Ireland’A’ v All Blacks XV, RDS, 7.45

Saturday, November 5th

Ireland v South Africa, Aviva Stadium, 5.30

Saturday, November 12th

Ireland v Fiji, Aviva Stadium, 1.0

Saturday, November 19th

Ireland v Australia, Aviva Stadium, 8.0

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times