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Andy Farrell’s autumn Ireland squad falls along anticipated lines

Leinster duo Dan Sheehan and Ciarán Frawley the news names in squad of 38

There'll be quibbles and hard-luck stories, there always are when an Irish squad is named, but given the hand that Andy Farrell and his coaches have been dealt this season, the 38 players named for the looming games against Japan, New Zealand and Argentina fall largely along anticipated lines.

The most eye-catching picks are the uncapped duo of 22-year-old Dan Sheehan and 24-year-old Ciarán Frawley, as well as a recall for Simon Zebo. But Sheehan's dynamic carrying game can add another dimension to both Leinster and Ireland, and hence it was no surprise that he nudged out Dave Heffernan.

Losing Robbie Henshaw due to a foot injury is a blow, albeit his recuperation will be monitored by the Irish medical team, while both Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster have intimated he might be fit for the All Blacks game.

But once Henshaw's injury contributed to him not being named, along with Chris Farrell, it was always likely that there'd be an opening for someone. Frawley has looked the part, as he usually does, in starting three games at '12' this season, thereby effectively replacing Henshaw at Leinster.


He’s strong, a playmaker, a very good goalkicker and like most versatile backs, often seems to have time on his hands. Had he come from one of the established Leinster schools there might have been a bigger fuss made about him before now. But for injuries as well as the logjam in Leinster his chance might have come sooner too.

Zebo will, it seems, always polarise opinion between his legion of admirers and his critics. But he’s back in the fold and it’s not his fault that he’s been played on the left wing by Munster and save for a couple of tries on his prodigal return against the Sharks has received little opportunity.

Lest we forget, Zebo has an exceptional strike rate (96 tries in 242 games for Munster, Racing 92 and Ireland), a superb passing game, a long left boot and also an inventive short kicking game, real X-factor and versatility, for he is probably the most viable alternative to Hugo Keenan at fullback. It's good to see him back.

In any case, this is not a squad selected on form. With only four rounds of URC games by way of evidence, and some way short of Test level, it never could be, and this also means that the team picked to face Japan in just over a fortnight’s time will be undercooked, or at best lightly toasted.

Thanks to the Lions series finishing a month later than normal, and the loss of the opening two rounds in Europe, the 38-man squad averages exactly 2.5 games per player this season, and solely in the URC. Compared to previous times therefore, it’s akin to being pitched into an autumn series by the end of September.

Accordingly, Farrell and co have gone with a mix of the tried and tested, along with the potential of young players who are relatively or completely unproven at Test level.

This is most evident at outhalf, where Jack Carty again misses out, and after his performance opposite Joey Carbery last Saturday that certainly cannot be down to form in his four starts this season, all the more so given Harry Byrne has been restricted to 22 minutes this season, against Zebre Parma.

Farrell and Mike Catt manifestly believe in the younger Byrne's ability over Carty, and over his brother Ross as well.

Similarly, Caolin Blade misses out despite his strong showing opposite Craig Casey last Saturday. Nathan Doak's time will come, most likely many times over, but he's only played four games in the URC and as well as Blade, three other international scrumhalves are also on the outside looking in, namely Luke McGrath, Kieran Marmion and the injured John Cooney.

Still, not having Doak at least alongside the Munster lock Thomas Ahern and Leinster back Jamie Osborne as development players looks like an opportunity missed.

Neither Robert Baloucoune nor Jacob Stockdale, like Stuart McCloskey, have played since Ulster's opening game of the season against Glasgow but presumably Stockdale's exclusion is injury related.

Baloucoune and Byrne are two of the six players capped in the summer to be named, along with Gavin Coombes, James Hume, Tom O'Toole and Nick Timoney, meaning nine of this squad have three caps or less.

The in-form Ross Molony, who was unlucky not be capped along with Tom Daly in the summer, misses out to Ryan Baird, despite usurping the latter at Leinster, but Baird's potential is clearly admired by Farrell and co, while Ultan Dillane has performed strongly in all his four starts this season.

Even allowing for the absence of the injured Will Connors and the retirement of CJ Stander, as is invariably the case many of the most notable absentees are in the uber competitive backrow area.

Rhys Ruddock has looked stronger and fitter than ever but doesn't make the cut once more in continuing the in-and-out tenor of his Irish career. Nor does the in-form Jack O'Donoghue and Paul Boyle, but then again it's hard to ignore the explosiveness and potential of Gavin Coombes and Nick Timoney, who can also cover openside.

The provincial breakdown again sees Leinster fulfilling their customary role in the last decade or so as bulk suppliers with 18 players, followed by Munster on 10, Ulster eight and Connacht three.

All three games will be televised by RTÉ while the prospect of full houses this November, at least for the Japan and New Zealand games (a Sunday fixture, against Argentina, might be a harder sell) could mean an additional €800,000 in gate receipts for each game, and thus close to €2.5 million for the IRFU; a relatively small but welcome little windfall after haemorrhaging money in the last two years.

Ireland squad for autumn internationals

(*denotes uncaped player)


Rob Herring (Ulster), Rónan Kelleher (Leinster), Dan Sheehan (Leinster)*.

Props: Finlay Bealham (Connacht), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Dave Kilcoyne (Munster), Tom O'Toole (Ulster), Andrew Porter (Leinster).

Locks: Ryan Baird (Leinster), Tadhg Beirne (Munster), Ultan Dillane (Connacht), Iain Henderson (Ulster), James Ryan (Leinster).

Backrows: Jack Conan (Leinster), Gavin Coombes (Munster), Caelan Doris (Leinster), Peter O'Mahony (Munster), Nick Timoney (Ulster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster).


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

Outhalves: Harry Byrne (Leinster), Joey Carbery (Munster), Johnny Sexton (Leinster, capt).

Centres: Bundee Aki (Connacht), Ciarán Frawley (Leinster)*, James Hume (Ulster), Stuart McCloskey (Ulster), Garry Ringrose (Leinster).

Outside backs: Robert Baloucoune (Ulster), Andrew Conway (Munster), Keith Earls (Munster), Hugo Keenan (Leinster), Jordan Larmour (Leinster), James Lowe (Leinster), Simon Zebo (Munster.

Development Players
Thomas Ahern (Munster)
Jamie Osborne (Leinster)

Fixtures (all at Aviva Stadium)
Saturday, November 6th:
Ireland v Japan, 1pm
Saturday, November 13th: Ireland v New Zealand, 3.15pm
Sunday, November 21st: Ireland v Argentina, 2.15pm