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Uncapped Connacht trio rewarded for fine form as Schmidt names Six Nations squad

Centre Tom Farrell and half-back pairing Caolin Blade and Jack Carty are in line to earn their first caps this spring.

Tom Farrell and Caolin Blade have received call-ups from Ireland head coach Schmidt.
Tom Farrell and Caolin Blade have received call-ups from Ireland head coach Schmidt.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

JOE SCHMIDT HAS named three uncapped players in his 38-man squad for the opening rounds of Ireland’s Six Nations defence, which begins with England’s visit to Dublin on Saturday 2 February.

All three fresh faces are from Connacht: Tom Farrell, Caolin Blade and Jack Carty have seen their fine form out west rewarded with call-ups to the international fold, with the former selected ahead of Leinster out-half Ross Byrne.

Dan Leavy misses out on the opening two fixtures with a calf injury but is expected to join up with his international team-mates deeper into the competition, while his scrum-half at provincial level, Luke McGrath, was ruled out of the competition yesterday having damaged knee ligaments against Toulouse last weekend.

Ireland squad for the opening rounds of the Six Nations

Forwards (21)

Rory Best (Ulster/Banbridge) 113 caps (C)
Tadhg Beirne (Munster/Lansdowne) 4 caps
Jack Conan (Leinster/Old Belvedere) 11 caps
Sean Cronin (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 65 caps
Ultan Dillane (Connacht/Corinthians) 11 caps
Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/Clontarf) 28 caps
Cian Healy (Leinster/Clontarf) 84 caps
Iain Henderson (Ulster/Queens University) 42 caps
Dave Kilcoyne (Munster/UL Bohemians) 24 caps
Jack McGrath (Leinster/St Marys College) 53 caps
Jordi Murphy (Ulster/Lansdowne) 26 caps
Sean O’Brien (Leinster/UCD) 52 caps
Peter O’Mahony (Munster/Cork Constitution) 52 caps (vc)
Andrew Porter (Leinster/UCD) 11 caps
Rhys Ruddock (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 21 caps
James Ryan (Leinster/UCD) 13 caps
John Ryan (Munster/Cork Constitution) 16 caps
Niall Scannell (Munster/Dolphin) 11 caps
CJ Stander (Munster/Shannon) 28 caps
Devin Toner (Leinster/Lansdowne) 63 caps
Josh van der Flier (Leinster/UCD) 13 caps

Backs (17)

Will Addison (Ulster/Enniskillen) 3 caps
Bundee Aki (Connacht/Galwegians) 12 caps
Caolin Blade (Connacht/Galwegians) 0 caps
Joey Carbery (Munster/Clontarf) 16 caps
Jack Carty (Connacht/Buccaneers) 0 caps
Andrew Conway (Munster/Garryowen) 10 caps
John Cooney (Ulster/Terenure College) 4 caps
Keith Earls (Munster/Young Munster) 72 caps
Chris Farrell (Munster/Young Munster) 3 caps
Tom Farrell (Connacht/TBC) 0 caps
Robbie Henshaw (Leinster/Buccaneers) 36 caps
Rob Kearney (Leinster/UCD) 87 caps
Jordan Larmour (Leinster/St Mary’s College) 9 caps
Conor Murray (Munster/Garryowen) 67 caps
Garry Ringrose (Leinster/UCD) 17 caps
Jonathan Sexton (Leinster/St Marys College) 78 caps (vc)
Jacob Stockdale (Ulster/Ballynahinch) 14 caps

Ross Byrne Ross Byrne was extremely unlucky to miss out on selection but is still part of Schmidt's plans, said the Ireland head coach. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Head coach Schmidt namechecked a plethora of players who he deemed unfortunate to miss out on his 38-man squad, describing his decision to select Carty over Ross Byrne as “an incredibly tight call”.

“In the front row, Finlay Bealham was very close, as was Marty Moore who is getting back to the form that saw him win 10 caps in the past”, said the World Rugby Coach of the Year, “and Stephen Archer was at his combative best in Gloucester at the weekend.

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“Rob Herring is very unlucky as his performances for the national team have been first-rate. Denis Buckley has done well for Connacht and the promising young loose heads Ed Byrne and Eric O’Sullivan have continued to impress.

“Quinn Roux was very close to selection in the second row, which has become highly competitive with youngsters Gav Thornbury, Fineen Wycherley and Kieran Treadwell all impressing of late along with the experienced Billy Holland.

Finlay Bealham and CJ Stander Finlay Bealham was very close to selection, said Schmidt. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Even more competitive is the back row, where those selected could well be joined by Dan Leavy once he’s fully fit. Sean Reidy continues to be all action for Ulster and Tommy O’Donnell is starting to get back to top form as well after his recent return from injury.

Schmidt confirmed that Kieran Marmion is “not too far away from returning” but expressed his hope that John Cooney would return to action for Ulster this weekend. “It’s a great opportunity for Caolin Blade to get into camp and compete for a spot,” he added.

“Johnny Sexton is making good progress, while Joey Carbery and Jack Carty have both performed consistently well so far this season.

Ross Byrne is unlucky in an incredibly tight call. He is still definitely in our thinking and will continue to press for inclusion through the Six Nations and beyond, while Billy Burns has also fitted in really well for Ulster this season.

“Bundee Aki and a fresh and fully fit Robbie Henshaw squeeze out Rory Scannell, who was great for Munster last Friday, and Stu McCloskey, who continues to give Ulster gain line as well as defensive solidity.

“At outside centre Tom Farrell has forced his way into contention and Chris Farrell is working his way back to match fitness, improving week by week. We’re sure that Sam Arnold and Rory O’Loughlin will continue to improve and both have plenty of promise.

“Adam Byrne and Dave Kearney were both very good against Toulouse. The Connacht outside backs have been consistently good; Mike Haley is growing into his role with Munster while we look forward to a fit-again Darren Sweetnam gaining some game minutes over the coming weeks.”

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