Farrell is due to name his Ireland squad after the Rainbow Cup final. Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Farrell watching closely as Irish provinces head into final weeks of season

Ireland will take on Japan and the US in Dublin in July.

FOR MANY IRISH rugby players, there are just two games left in what has been the strangest season ever.

In fact, some may only play in one of their provinces’ two remaining Rainbow Cup games. Others might not even get another chance at all.

The Irish Lions will be in action all the way into August, of course, while Andy Farrell’s Ireland squad will end their 2020/21 campaign after a clash with the USA in Dublin on 10 July.

There may be some crossover between those two groups if any of Warren Gatland’s Lions get injured. The likes of James Ryan and Garry Ringrose will be keeping their phones on at all times.

Regardless of hopes of a late Lions call-up, everyone wants to be part of the Ireland squad Farrell will name in the days after the Rainbow Cup final on 19 June, with Tests against Japan and the US Eagles to come in place of the cancelled tour of Fiji.

While the Fijians have sorted two games against the All Blacks for July, Ireland’s replacement fixtures aren’t the worst.

Japan haven’t played since their home 2019 World Cup but they were quarter-finalists in that competition and played some of its most thrilling rugby under Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown. The Brave Blossoms will face Gatland’s Lions in Edinburgh the weekend before their clash in Dublin on 3 July, so will have a high-level warm-up.

The US have been similarly game-less since the World Cup but they will be in Twickenham to play England the weekend before their own visit to the Aviva Stadium. They’re ranked 16th in the world and have yet to beat Ireland in 10 Tests, so it’s the more straightforward of the two Tests on paper.

Down eight players due to Lions call-ups, it will be fascinating to see who Farrell includes in his squad for the two summer fixtures.

joey-carbery-after-the-game Joey Carbery has been back in action with Munster. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Ryan Baird and Craig Casey, who made debuts during the Six Nations this year, will hope for further Test exposure, while the uncapped Tom O’Toole – who was also part of Farrell’s squad for the championship – will presumably get his first cap. Harry Byrne is another who has been around the squad several times already.

Munster man Gavin Coombes looks a certainty to wear a green shirt for the first time after his brilliant season, while a host of other uncapped players including Gavin Thornbury, Scott Penny, Michael Lowry, Nick Timoney, Paul Boyle, Tom Daly, James Hume, Ciarán Frawley, and Robert Baloucoune have impressed for their provinces.

Caelan Doris’ recent return from concussion means he could also make a welcome comeback with Ireland this summer and it seems likely Joey Carbery will be reintegrated for the first time since the 2019 World Cup.

With Conor Murray away on Lions duty, there is an opening in the scrum-half pecking order and Farrell isn’t short of options in that position. 

Farrell will surely view these two games as developmental opportunities but he is also unlikely to send out two teams full of inexperienced players. Instead, we can expect a combination of senior squad regulars and some fresher faces.

It will be intriguing to note who captains Ireland, with Johnny Sexton still sidelined due to concussion as things stand. The 35-year-old has signed on with the IRFU for next season, so he is going nowhere, but it may be a chance for Farrell to give other leaders greater responsibility if Sexton isn’t back.

Of course, Sexton and other leading players will be determined to play as they look to convince Gatland of their merits for a late Lions call, so it wouldn’t be straightforward for Farrell to tell established figures that they can finish their seasons before the end of June.

As Connacht, Munster, and Ulster all get set for Rainbow Cup games this weekend, with Leinster back in action on 4 June, Farrell has still got plenty to weigh up.

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