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Schmidt's statement, Bundee's inclusion and more Ireland squad talking points

Who can consider themselves unlucky to miss out? We dissect the squad for next month’s Test matches.

IRELAND HEAD COACH Joe Schmidt this afternoon announced his extended squad for next month’s Autumn internationals against South Africa, Fiji and Argentina. There was no place for Simon Zebo, with four players — Bundee Aki, Darren Sweetnam, Chris Farrell and Adam Byrne — receiving call-ups for the first time.

The full squad list is available here, and below we take a closer look at the 38-man panel.

Schmidt’s statement

Joe Schmidt and Simon Zebo celebrate winning Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Joe Schmidt’s decision to drop Simon Zebo is not entirely surprising, but it’s still a strong statement from the Ireland coach, who, in keeping with the IRFU’s unwritten policy of giving preference to home-based players, has already turned to the future.

Zebo played in all but two of Ireland’s 12 Test matches last season and was poised to be Schmidt’s starting fullback when the Springboks pitch up at the Aviva Stadium, but the Kiwi has shown a ruthlessness in cutting a player who will remain in the system until May.

It sends a clear message to any player considering a move abroad, and shuts the door firmly on Zebo’s international future whilst he pursues a career in France.

An exception was made for Johnny Sexton during his time with Racing 92, but the difference is that the out-half is seen as an indispensable component of Schmidt’s side and the Irish management knew he would be back with Leinster before the start of the 2015 World Cup.

Interestingly, however, is Schmidt’s treatment Zebo in comparison to his selection of Ian Madigan in similar circumstances a couple of seasons ago.

In December 2015, Madigan announced his intention to move to Bordeaux Begles at the end of that season but was then still included in Schmidt’s 2016 Six Nations squad during his final months with Leinster.

While a significant loss given his form over the last 24 months in both the red and green, Schmidt clearly believes there are players available to him who can come in and fill Zebo’s shoes. And he has wasted no time in beginning that process, cutting the Cork native from his plans completely.

It would be a great shame if Zebo’s last appearance in a green shirt was in the first Test against Japan back in June, but it’s looking more and more likely.

The new faces

Three years after arriving at Connacht, Bundee Aki has been called-up by Schmidt by virtue of the contentious residency rule, and is included in the squad along with fellow uncapped players Darren Sweetnam, Chris Farrell and Adam Byrne.

New Zealand-born Aki has been in the selection picture since committing his future to the western province last season and is set to make his international debut for his adopted country next month.

His selection, whether on merit or not following his performances for Connacht, will naturally divide opinion, particularly when you consider his indecision over whether to declare his allegiance to Ireland as recently as May.

Garry Ringrose’s shoulder injury and the continued unavailability of Jared Payne has opened the door for Aki, and with Schmidt overlooking Rory Scannell despite his encouraging performances during the summer, the 27-year-old could renew his partnership with Robbie Henshaw against the Springboks.

Farrell is another option available to Schmidt, who may also be sending out a statement by including the Munster centre in the first squad of the season following his return home from France.

Bundee Aki Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The 24-year-old, who spent three years with Grenoble, is joined by Munster team-mate Sweetnam, who is rewarded for a breakthrough year last term with a chance to test himself at international level.

Byrne, meanwhile, is the latest Leinster academy graduate to be called up but serious question marks hang over his defensive abilities, even if he possesses raw talent with ball in hand. Working under Schmidt will hopefully inspire confidence in a player who is highly rated.

Connacht’s Tom McCartney and Ulster prop Wiehahn Herbst — both also now eligible through the residency rule — missed out on first call-ups, as did Leinster out-half Ross Byrne.

Sticking with the tried and trusted

While Simon Zebo’s omission was the main talking point from this afternoon’s squad announcement, Schmidt has made some big calls elsewhere, particularly in the backline.

Naming 17 backs for the three-game series against South Africa, Fiji and Argentina, Schmidt has looked to cover all bases with his selection and with the inclusion of four uncapped players, has opted for experience elsewhere.

Rory Scannell, Tiernan O’Halloran and Luke Marshall have all been left out with Dave and Rob Kearney handed recalls and Ian Keatley named as back-up for Johnny Sexton.

Scannell, in particular, can consider himself awfully unlucky to miss out. The Munster centre made his debut against USA in June and had a largely positive tour before starting this season in fine form. Many people had him in their XV for the Springboks.

But Schmidt has called it differently and appears to have gone for Farrell instead, with Stuart McCloskey given the nod ahead of his Ulster team-mate Marshall. O’Halloran, too, was on that summer tour but his disjointed start to the season because of injury appears to have cost him with Joey Carbery able to cover the fullback and out-half positions.

Dave Kearney Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Rob Kearney’s selection has raised some eyebrows. The fullback has been out of action for the last eight weeks with another hamstring problem and has yet to make his return, with Leinster ruling him out of this weekend’s inter-pro with Ulster.

The suggestion, however, is that he’s made good progress and could yet be included in Leo Cullen’s starting XV for Belfast with Schmidt no doubt keen for the 76-time capped international to get minutes under his belt.

His brother, Dave, hasn’t featured for Ireland since winning the last of his 16 caps back in March 2016 but appears to have regained his full fitness after an injury-plagued season last year. He’s chosen ahead of Ulster duo Andrew Trimble and Tommy Bowe, with Jacob Stockdale, Andrew Conway and Keith Earls providing the other options on the wing.

The unlucky ones

Rory Scannell, outstanding for Munster, will feel aggrieved by his omission but so too will Sean Cronin, with his Leinster team-mate James Tracy and Ulster’s Rob Herring preferred by Schmidt.

Captain Rory Best has recovered from his hamstring layoff while Munster’s Niall Scannell was ruled out after undergoing thumb surgery.

Cronin has been an ever-reliable performer off the bench for Ireland in recent years and was even talked about, albeit briefly, as a potential Lions tourist last summer given the punch he packs when called upon.

Furthermore, Tracy’s form has been hit and miss. The hooker, who made his debut against Canada 12 months ago, has struggled for accuracy and consistency with his throwing and currently appears devoid of confidence. Schmidt must have missed his second-half cameo in Glasgow last week.

Seán Cronin Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

You’ve also got to feel for Josh van der Flier, who suffered an ankle injury in that game at Scotstoun and now appears to have been ruled out of the series. The flanker had put himself in contention for a starting berth but now misses out with Dan Leavy and Rhys Ruddock included at the expense of van der Flier and Jordi Murphy in that ultra competitive back row battle.

In the front five, Schmidt has given James Ryan and Andrew Porter further opportunities with Finlay Bealham, Stephen Archer and Quinn Roux the notable absentees.

“We have retained a core of experienced players but have also included a number of promising players that we hope will acquit themselves well,” Schmidt said.

Breakdown of Ireland squad by position:

Fullbacks: Joey Carbery, Rob Kearney.

Wingers: Adam Byrne, Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Dave Kearney, Jacob Stockdale, Darren Sweetnam.

Centres: Bundee Aki, Chris Farrell, Robbie Henshaw, Stuart McCloskey.

Out-halves: Johnny Sexton, Ian Keatley.

Scrum-halves: Conor Murray, Kieran Marmion, Luke McGrath.

Hookers: Rory Best, Rob Herring, James Tracy.

Props: Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Dave Kilcoyne, Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter, John Ryan.

Second-rows: Devin Toner, James Ryan, Ultan Dillane, Iain Henderson, Kieran Treadwell.

Back-rows: Jack Conan, Rhys Ruddock, CJ Stander, Peter O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell, Dan Leavy, Sean O’Brien.

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Zebo dropped from Ireland squad as Schmidt includes 4 uncapped players for November

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