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The uncapped inclusions make sense as Schmidt names deep November squad

Ross Byrne, Will Addison and Sammy Arnold are already familiar with Schmidt’s demands.

EVEN WITH JOE Schmidt naming an extended squad of 42 players, there are several more we can point to as being rather unlucky to miss out.

Building depth has been one of Schmidt’s biggest projects since the 2015 World Cup showed up a lack of it. The current evidence, with 11 months until the next World Cup, suggests Ireland and the provinces have done a fine job.

It was never likely that the Ireland head coach would include a swathe of uncapped players in this November Test group.

Leinsters Ross Byrne Ross Byrne has been consistently good for Leinster. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

With 35 debuts handed out over the last three years, the vast majority of the depth-building and experimentation has been done, but the inclusion of Ross Byrne, Will Addison and Sammy Arnold makes sense.

None of this trio is new to Schmidt and his methods.

Leinster out-half Byrne, deservedly included again for his consistently good form at provincial level, spent the June Test series in Australia with Ireland. Though he was not used off the bench in the third clash with the Wallabies, he has fresh familiarity with what Schmidt demands.

Arnold was involved several times around Ireland’s Grand Slam campaign earlier this year, travelling to Spain with Schmidt’s squad for their pre-Six Nations training camp, spending the week of the France game with them, then returning for a two-day camp in the second down week of the championship.

Clearly, Schmidt likes what he has seen from 22-year-old Munster centre, who is a highly-explosive athlete with an aggressive edge and has a clear ability to learn swiftly from his coaches and through his experiences. 

While this season has not gone completely smoothly for Arnold with Munster, the ceiling in his game looks very high.

Sam Arnold scores his sides fourth try Arnold is a player with major potential. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Addison, conveniently visiting his sister in Australia at the time, linked up with Ireland in Melbourne during the summer before he had even joined Ulster from Sale Sharks.

Qualified to play for Ireland through his Fermanagh-born mother, Addison returned to camp in August, when Schmidt brought around 50 players together. 

Schmidt had been tracking Addison for some years before his move to Ulster was secured, having long been aware of his qualification for Ireland. His signing into Irish rugby is certainly one that the Ireland head coach was pleased with.

It’s worth underlining that Addison was the club captain of Premiership side Sale, played more than 100 times for them, and had plenty of Heineken Champions Cup experience before joining Ulster – at the age of 26, he has very strong pedigree.

His form early this season for Ulster at fullback and outside centre would have simply been another green tick in Schmidt’s eyes.

The fact that Addison has worn the 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 shirts as a professional and excelled in virtually all of them is another attraction for Schmidt, particularly given the constraining nature of picking a 31-man World Cup squad.

Ulster’s Will Addison Will Addison has a Jared Payne-esque skillset. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

It may be that all three of the uncapped players get their debuts on Ireland’s trip to Chicago to face Italy on 3 November, particularly given the likelihood that Schmidt will leave a group of front-liners including Johnny Sexton at home.

Playing his strongest team in that Italy fixture, then travelling back to Ireland to prepare for the Test against Argentina and then moving on into the home tie against the All Blacks with the same players simply wouldn’t make sense.

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Regardless, the clash at Soldier Field will be of major interest as many of the fringe players push to ensure Schmidt ranks them as World Cup squad must-haves.

The obviously damaging absence from Schmidt’s overall squad is Conor Murray, who is nearing his return for Munster but simply couldn’t be risked in the November Tests.

Kieran Marmion [22 caps], Luke McGrath [6 caps] and John Cooney [2 caps] will compete for the number nine shirt and even though he is coming off an ankle injury, Marmion’s greater experience appears to put him at the top of that pile.

The Connacht man has delivered for Schmidt in the past, particularly in helping to prevent England from claiming a Grand Slam in Dublin in 2017 when Murray was injured.

Kieran Marmion Connacht's Kieran Marmion is the most-experience scrum-half by some distance. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

That said, McGrath had been in excellent form for Leinster until a dip against Toulouse last weekend, while Cooney has been superb for Ulster once again early on this season. 

Watching on at home over November will be the group of players who narrowly missed out on making the 42-man squad.

Munster centre Rory Scannell is among them, given that he is a first-choice starter with his province and delivers for them on a consistent basis.

The 24-year-old inside centre has been honest in saying Schmidt has asked to see more physicality in his game, although matching the likes of Robbie Henshaw, the in-form Stuart McCloskey and Bundee Aki is always going to be difficult.

Scannell won his three Ireland caps so far on the 2017 tour of the US and Japan but with competition so strong in midfield, his wait for more goes on. 

Ultan Dillane has been in fine form with Connacht but, with Ireland’s second-row options similarly strong, he misses out. 

His Connacht team-mate Tom Farrell has been consistently excellent since arriving from Bedford midway through the 2016/17 season but seems unlikely to get a shot with Ireland as they move towards the World Cup.

Rory Scannell Rory Scannell has been consistent for Munster. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Munster’s Dan Goggin was in fine form before his knee injury – underlining that Irish depth in the centres is strong. His new team-mate Mike Haley has taken time to settle in but is starting to show his class and at the age of 24, has lots of further potential.

Denis Buckley, Paul Boyle – there are more players who have shown up well early on this season but it’s difficult to pick holes in Schmidt’s squad, particularly given the size of it.  

Schmidt’s method has always been to keep every player on his radar engaged and motivated to continue to ask questions of him when they haven’t been selected.

That is unlikely to change now but the quality in his November group underlines why Ireland can look towards their four upcoming Tests with some belief. 

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Murray Kinsella

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