Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has guided Ireland to a historic series win in New Zealand, to a world number one ranking, to a clean sweep in the November internationals and to a Six Nations Championship Grand Slam in the past 11 months, so there isn’t much purchase in trying to argue against his right to pick the 42 players he announced in a summer training squad for the Rugby World Cup.
The only minor cavil is that in the absence of context or an explanation or two behind some of the selections, conjecture has the floor. Farrell, unsurprisingly, has remained loyal to the players that propelled Ireland to the list of achievements and awards. It’s hardly blind faith as the results validate his choices.
Farrell was prescient in endorsing the merits of the Emerging Ireland tour to South Africa last summer, suggesting that it would provide a vehicle for players to push through to the senior squad. Jack Crowley, Calvin Nash and Jamie Osborne grasped the opportunity, while Ciarán Frawley and Caolin Blade were originally selected but withdrew because of injury.
There are four uncapped players in the squad – Nash, Osborne, Frawley and young Ulster hooker Tom Stewart. Munster wing Nash, a try scorer in the URC final against the Stormers, has been consistently excellent all season. Osborne and Frawley have had their injury issues, but their quality is obvious, while the 22-year-old Stewart was the leading try-scorer in the URC with 16.
The Irish coaching team and the panel of players will convene on June 18th at the High Performance Centre (HPC) to begin the first block of pre-season and to then prepare for World Cup warm-up matches in August against Italy (8.0) and England (5.30) at the Aviva Stadium – tickets for these matches are available now on Ticketmaster – before a final tune-up against Samoa in Bayonne.
Jacob Stockdale’s inclusion and that of Nash, Osborne and Keith Earls in the back three options alongside the first-choice back three and Jimmy O’Brien means that Ulster’s Robert Baloucoune – he offers the top-end pace and finishing elan that no one else does in Irish rugby – and Shane Daly are unfortunate to miss out. Jordan Larmour not being first choice at Leinster put the kibosh on his chances.
Antoine Frisch has been superb for Munster and would have offered a slightly different style of player with his offloading and passing game at 13, but Farrell has gone for the tried and trusted with Robbie Henshaw capable of backing up Garry Ringrose if required to switch to outside centre.
Frawley’s versatility – he can play outhalf, centre and fullback – has won approval ahead of Joey Carbery and Harry Byrne. Crowley’s mature displays at the business end of the URC will push him closer to the matchday 23.
Jeremy Loughman is the preferred choice at loosehead for Munster, but Dave Kilcoyne retains his pre-eminence in the national context. For many of the Munster contingent there was very little room to squeeze their way into consideration no matter how stellar their performances in the second half of the season.
Secondrow Jean Kleyn, who was chosen by Joe Schmidt for the 2019 World Cup in Japan, and the man of the match from the URC final, John Hodnett, couldn’t have done much more to push their respective cases. The Irish management are fans of Leinster’s promising 22-year-old secondrow Joe McCarthy while Nick Timoney (Ulster) and Scott Penny (Leinster) will be disappointed to miss out.
Farrell’s decision to opt for only one out-and-out openside flanker in Josh van der Flier – Peter O’Mahony has played there for Ireland while Caelan Doris has done so in Europe for Leinster – allowed him to reward Connacht’s Cian Prendergast, who is among the more familiar faces when it comes to backrow Test options.
The Irish coach offered a non-specific overview: “It is exciting to announce our extended training squad for the first phase of Rugby World Cup preparations, and we’re looking forward to assembling in Dublin next month to hit the ground running as a group.
“It’s pleasing to see that selection has been as tough as ever, as real quality players have initially been unfortunate to have missed out. I’m sure that camp will be competitive enough as we grow minds and bodies and look to push on with our game from last season.
“In the meantime, it’s important that we freshen up for a busy and exciting summer ahead, so we’re ready to get to work on June 18th and build towards the Bank of Ireland Nations Series and to France beyond that.”
It’s important to note that the squad will be reduced by nine players – the cull may consist of possibly five backs and four forwards – at the end of August to the 33 players that will travel to represent Ireland at the World Cup in France. Given the fact that there are three Test matches in the interim, those who are on the outside looking in won’t have given up hope just yet.
Ciarán Frawley (Leinster)
The 25-year-old Skerries native played in the two internationals against the Maori All Blacks, for which Irish caps weren’t awarded, and then saw his chances of a potential debut scuppered by a knee injury while playing for Ireland A against a New Zealand XV. He can play outhalf, centre and fullback and has a strong kicking game.
Calvin Nash (Munster)
A centre at school, he switched to the wing and represented Ireland across three age-grade levels, including captaining Ireland at under-20s. He made his Munster debut while still a teenager and credited his time playing AIL rugby with Young Munster for helping him develop. He’s been unlucky with injury but has kicked on superbly since featuring in the Emerging Ireland tour last summer.
Jamie Osborne (Leinster)
He sustained a knee ligament injury in a URC match against Edinburgh in March and hasn’t played since. The 21-year-old from Naas had enjoyed an impressive season up to that point, starting 10 of 12 matches including two Champions Cup matches and played in both centre positions, wing and fullback. A very good footballer with a powerful physique.
Tom Stewart (Ulster)
A dynamic player in the loose, he was a standout for the Irish 20s side that went unbeaten in their first three matches before the tournament was abandoned due to Covid-19. Stewart, 22, quickly progressed to the Ulster senior squad and this season scored a competition-leading 16 tries in the URC. He was called into the extended Ireland squad for this year’s Six Nations.
Ireland World Cup training squad
Hookers: Dan Sheehan (Leinster), Rónan Kelleher (Leinster), Rob Herring (Ulster), Tom Stewart (Ulster).
Props: Andrew Porter (Leinster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Dave Kilcoyne (Munster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster), Finlay Bealham (Connacht), Tom O’Toole (Ulster).
Locks: James Ryan (Leinster), Tadhg Beirne (Munster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Ryan Baird (Leinster), Joe McCarthy (Leinster), Kieran Treadwell (Ulster).
Backrows: Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Caelan Doris (Leinster), Jack Conan (Leinster), Gavin Coombes (Munster), Cian Prendergast (Connacht.
Scrumhalves: Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster), Craig Casey (Munster), Caolin Blade (Connacht).
Outhalves: Johnny Sexton (Leinster), Ross Byrne (Leinster), Jack Crowley (Munster), Ciarán Frawley (Leinster).
Centres: Bundee Aki (Connacht), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster), Garry Ringrose (Leinster), Stuart McCloskey (Ulster).
Outside backs: James Lowe (Leinster), Hugo Keenan (Leinster), Mack Hansen (Connacht), Jimmy O’Brien (Leinster), Keith Earls (Munster), Jamie Osborne (Leinster), Calvin Nash (Munster), Jacob Stockdale (Ulster).
Bank of Ireland Nations Series Fixtures
Saturday, August 5th: Ireland v Italy, Aviva Stadium, 8.0
Saturday, August 19th: Ireland v England, Aviva Stadium, 5.30
Saturday, August 26th: Ireland v Samoa, Stade Jean-Dauger, Bayonne, 8.0 Irish time)
Rugby World Cup 2023 Fixtures (all times Irish)
Saturday, September 9th: Ireland v Romania, Stade de Bordeaux, 2.30
Saturday, September 16th: Ireland v Tonga, Stade de la Beaujoire, Nantes, 8.0
Saturday, September 23rd: Ireland v South Africa, Stade de France, 8.0
Saturday, October 7th: Ireland v Scotland, Stade de France, 8.0