Baird, Daly, Keenan, Gibson-Park, Byrne, Connors - Ireland's uncapped six

Andy Farrell’s squad includes six men who will be hoping for their Test debuts later this month.

WHILE ANDY FARRELL’S Ireland squad delivered a few talking points in terms of the players who missed out, it also includes six uncapped players to add another layer of excitement about the restart of the Six Nations later this month.

Ireland are due to face Italy in Dublin on 24 October before taking on France in Paris the following weekend on 31 October.

Here, we discuss the six uncapped players who Farrell has included in his 35-man squad.

Ryan Baird

The youngest of the uncapped players included in Farrell’s squad and the one with the most potential too. Baird trained with Ireland earlier this year but has now been formally called up.

leinsters-ryan-baird Baird is a seriously athletic lock. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Baird is a freakishly powerful athlete and possesses major dynamism within a 6ft 6ins frame. Pace and athleticism are good starting points but there is more to Baird, who is regarded as an intelligent player and a smart lineout operator even at his young age.

Baird – who can also play at blindside flanker -isn’t yet a first-choice for Leinster but there would clearly be some value in Farrell giving him an Ireland debut sooner rather than later. The 21-year-old is a huge prospect for Irish rugby.

Shane Daly

While injuries for Keith Earls and Will Addison created openings in the back three, there’s no doubt that 23-year-old Cork man Daly has earned his call-up thanks to his excellent form for Munster in their 2019/20 season run-in.

shane-daly Shane Daly has just returned from a groin injury. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Daly had been impressive for Munster over the course of the entire Pro14 campaign prior to lockdown but moved to the next level in their three games after the restart, excelling in the number 15 shirt.

A confident young man with a skillset that gives hints as to his footballing background, Daly looks like the kind of player who will improve with every step up in the quality around him. 

He has only made one very brief Champions Cup appearance off the bench for Munster but will now hope for a Test debut. Fullback is his preferred position but he can also play on the wing or at outside centre.

Hugo Keenan

IRFU performance director David Nucifora will have been a happy man hearing about Farrell selecting Daly, as well as Leinster’s Hugo Keenan and Will Connors, given that all three have spent time in the Ireland men’s 7s programme that he relaunched in 2015.

leinsters-hugo-keenan Keenan has impressed for Leinster since the restart. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Like Daly, Keenan was a key figure for the 7s team during his time in the squad and the 24-year-old views it as having been essential to his development as a player.

Having concentrated fully on 15s rugby once again for the 2019/20 campaign, Keenan racked up notable minutes at fullback for Leinster and was ready to take his opportunity when Dave Kearney’s injury opened up a spot in the starting back three after the restart.

Impressing with his work-rate, decision-making, and backfield coverage, Keenan has pushed his way into Ireland contention. He can play on the wing or at fullback.

Ed Byrne

Farrell has opted for just two loosehead props in his squad in the form of Leinster pair Cian Healy and Ed Byrne, although tighthead Andrew Porter is more than capable of moving across – indeed, some feel he would be a better loosehead in the long-term.

ed-byrne Byrne bulked up during the lockdown. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

27-year-old Byrne has pushed his way into the squad with Munster’s Dave Kilcoyne still sidelined through injury, but his form has been impressive in recent weeks.

Carlow man Byrne was always a big prospect for Leinster but his development was halted by a nightmare 28-month run of knee injuries from 2014 through into 2017. Ever since, Byrne has steadily improved and he even recently captained Leinster in the Pro14.

Byrne used the lockdown to good effect to add mass to his frame and has certainly looked more like a Test prop since the restart. The next step in his upward trajectory is a first Ireland cap.

Will Connors

Like Baird, Connors was included as a ‘development player’ to train with Ireland before the start of the 2020 Six Nations earlier this year but he had earned a full call-up just a few weeks later and was in line to debut against Italy until Covid-19 struck.

will-connors Connors is an outstanding tackler. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Now, ahead of that rescheduled Italy fixture, 24-year-old Connors remains part of the full Ireland squad and will hope for a belated first Test cap. 

The Leinster openside flanker is one of the most effective tacklers in Irish rugby and has been working hard on his ball-carrying, turnover skills, and lineout detail in a bid to get those elements up to the level of his chop tackling.

Connors is a dogged character who gives those around him energy and will be pushing for Ireland’s number seven shirt along with Josh van der Flier, who he was picked ahead of for Leinster’s Champions Cup quarter-final defeat to Saracens.

Jamison Gibson-Park

Having qualified for Ireland in 2019 after three years of residency here, Gibson-Park was included in Farrell’s first-ever training squad last December but wasn’t involved for the Six Nations earlier this year.

jamison-gibson-park-is-presented-with-the-guinness-pro14-player-of-the-match-award-after-the-game Gibson-Park has been picked ahead of Leinster team-mate Luke McGrath and John Cooney. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

He has now pushed past John Cooney and team-mate Luke McGrath based on his recent run of good form for Leinster, even if those performances weren’t enough to convince Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster to pick him for their Champions Cup quarter-final.

28-year-old New Zealand native Gibson-Park has been with Leinster since 2016 and only now has truly been able to wobble McGrath’s status as the starter in the number nine shirt.

However, Farrell clearly likes what he has seen of Gibson-Park’s high-tempo approach to the game, with the Leinster man capable of sniping and kicking cleverly. It will be intriguing to see if Farrell believes Gibson-Park is ready to play a role for Ireland against Italy and France later this month. 

Additional training players

Farrell has also named the uncapped Craig Casey, Harry Byrne, James Lowe, and Fineen Wycherley, as well as James Tracy, as additional players to train with the Ireland squad from next week. 

harry-byrne-arrives Harry Byrne is a major prospect for Leinster and Ireland. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

Leinster wing Lowe doesn’t qualify to play for Ireland until early November but it makes sense to get him up to speed ahead of his probable debut in the Autumn Nations Cup, while 29-year-old Leinster hooker Tracy already has six Ireland caps and offers more training depth in the front row.

21-year-old Munster scrum-half Casey has signalled his potential with the Ireland U20s and his province over the last couple of years, with his rapid passing game offering something different. 

Farrell clearly views 21-year-old Leinster out-half Harry Byrne as a possible long-term successor to Johnny Sexton, having included him earlier this year too. Byrne will hope that Sexton and his older brother, Ross, being busy over the next few months with Ireland allows him to rack up minutes back at Leinster.

22-year-old Munster second row Wycherley is a dynamic, aggressive prospect who delivered another promising showing off the bench against Scarlets last weekend. He will look to nail down a starting spot with his province in the months ahead.

Bernard Jackman and Murray Kinsella break down Andy Farrell’s latest 35-man Ireland squad and welcome the news that Joe Schmidt is back in the game:

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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