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Schmidt alert to Connacht's resurgance as five make Ireland group

Robbie Henshaw, Kieran Marmion, Rodney Ah You, Nathan White and Darragh Leader have made the November squad.

Kieran Marmion and Nathan White look set to see game for Ireland in November.
Kieran Marmion and Nathan White look set to see game for Ireland in November.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

JOE SCHMIDT’S LATEST Ireland squad includes five Connacht players, a clear sign that the westerners are heading in the right direction.

While the nature of a 37-man selection means a little more freedom in bringing in inexperienced and uncapped players, the likelihood is that Nathan White, Robbie Henshaw and Kieran Marmion will all have parts to play in the November Test series.

Rodney Ah You’s improving form has impressed Schmidt, while 21-year-old fullback Darragh Leader comes in to allow Ireland’s coaching staff to gain a more in-depth understanding of how he functions as a player and as a personality.

Schmidt will be present at Connacht training in Galway today, giving him the chance to begin that process and check in on other young players who have muscled their way onto his radar – the likes of Dave Heffernan, Denis Buckley and Mick Kearney.

Still short of 20 starts for Connacht at senior level, Leader is not yet the finished product, but Schmidt has seen enough in the fullback’s ability to mark him down as a real international prospect.

Darragh is a guy that has some raw edges, but some raw potential,” said Schmidt yesterday. ”With Darragh, we wanted to get him into camp and get to know him a little bit.

“Darragh is a big kid, he’s got good speed, he’s got a nice long kicking game. Defensively, he is not afraid to involve himself. There are some aspects that are interesting for us, and therefore we’ve brought him into camp.

Darragh Leader Leader has impressed the Ireland coaching team with his raw ability. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“[We're] probably in discussions with Darragh as a long-term investment, but there might be some short-term reward based on his training performances and an opportunity that he might get through the Guinness Series.”

Now a naturalised Irishman, tighthead prop White has been an impressive figure since first arriving in Ireland to join Leinster four seasons ago. His scrummaging and leadership have been crucial to Connacht’s growth, and he is more than ready for Test rugby.

While Ah You had a tough time during his 13-minute cameo against Argentina in June, Schmidt has been encouraged by how the former New Zealand U20 international has recovered his form this season.

With Marty Moore ruled out of next month’s clashes against South Africa, Georgia and Australia, and Mike Ross currently struggling with injury too, Ah You and particularly White are likely to see game time.

The two tight head boys in Connacht are probably rewarded because they’ve both put in really good performances – Rodney Ah You against Glasgow and Nathan White in a number of performances, probably uppermost against Jack McGrath and Cian Healy in the derby game against Leinster,” explains Schmidt.

“That also probably reflects a few other guys we were looking at. Dave Heffernan and Denis Buckley have done really well and the guys in behind them.

“Nathan White is very experienced. He’s played a lot of Super Rugby, he’s a 33-year-old, he’s no spring chicken. His experience is one of the reasons we did pick him.

Rodney Ah You celebrates after the game Rodney Ah You has had some strong outings this season. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Mike [Ross], I’m not sure whether he will play this weekend or next weekend [for Leinster], because it’s symptom-based. If he’s available to play, great. If he’s unavailable for South Africa, then I think we’ve got a bit of experience in Nathan and Rodney, who has really picked his form up.”

Meanwhile, Henshaw is in direct competition with Jared Payne for Ireland’s 13 shirt, while Marmion is likely to feature against Georgia at the very least.

Schmidt has been generally keen to point out the importance of the provincial coaches to his work with Ireland. His strong relationship with Pat Lam facilitates a strong relationship with what is going on out west.

In that regard, Connacht’s players are being watched for potential Ireland honours every single day, even when Schmidt doesn’t arrive in Galway to partake in training.

We don’t get as much of an insight into how the players operate as their provincial coaches,” said Schmidt.

“One of the things is that I’ve spoken with all the provincial coaches about selection and got feedback, as well as asked a few questions of them about different individuals. They are part of the selection process, effectively.”

Should Connacht’s strong form continue against the Exeter Chiefs on Saturday in the Challenge Cup and beyond, Lam will have even more belief in pushing his players forward for international involvement.

The west is certainly awake, increasingly to Ireland’s benefit.

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Munster’s historic 12-0 victory over New Zealand in 1978 is retold in a new Guinness ad campaign, ‘Munster: Self Belief,’ which will air on Irish TV for the first time on Wednesday 5 November ahead of Ireland’s opening Guinness Series fixture.

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Murray Kinsella

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