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Five players unlucky to miss out in Andy Farrell's Six Nations squad

The Ireland head coach faced some interesting calls in finalising his 37-man group.

Connacht scrum-half Kieran Marmion.
Connacht scrum-half Kieran Marmion.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Updated Jan 19th 2022, 7:29 PM

1. Kieran Marmion (Connacht)

Not the most headline-grabbing scrum-half around, but Marmion has been in superb form for Connacht this season, his tempo and control key elements in helping the province move towards an exciting new attacking approach.

At 29, the international door is not yet closed for Marmion, but, like Ulster scrum-half John Cooney, he seems to fall into the category of faces that simply don’t fit into Andy Farrell’s vision for Ireland. Marmion hasn’t been involved in an Ireland squad since coming off the bench in the sluggish win against Georgia back in November 2020.

In the eyes of Connacht head coach Andy Friend, Marmion – who has been capped 28 times at Test level – is currently playing “some of the best rugby I’ve seen him play”, but that hasn’t proven enough to earn what would have been a deserved recall. He may take some encouragement from how Jack Carty has forged a path back into Farrell’s plans, but with Jamison Gibson-Park, Craig Casey and Conor Murray all standing in his way, it certainly looks a difficult task.

There’s a real battle brewing around that No 9 shirt, and while Ulster will be delighted to have eight players included in Farrell’s squad, scrum-half Nathan Doak will also feel disappointed to miss out as he continues his impressive rate of development at the province, while Leinster’s Luke McGrath has a real challenge in usurping Gibson-Park at Leinster.

2. Mike Haley (Munster)

Capable of producing the odd X-factor moment, but like Marmion, Haley is another who tends to quietly go about his business, and he has become an increasingly important and reliable member of the Munster squad since making the move from Sale Sharks in 2018.

The fullback has been in and around Ireland squads before, making the bench for the opening fixture of the 2019 Six Nations against Italy, and being included for the ‘mid-season stocktake’ Farrell held at the IRFU’s training base in Abbotstown shortly after he succeeded Joe Schmidt as head coach.

mike-haley Haley has been a consistent performer for Munster this season. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

It was always going to be difficult for Haley to nudge his way up the pecking order, as Hugo Keenan has looked increasingly assured in the Ireland 15 shirt and Andrew Conway enjoyed a strong November window, with the uncapped Mike Lowry eventually getting the call-up on the back of some exceptional performances for Ulster. Perhaps Haley has also suffered from some underwhelming team displays by Munster in recent weeks.

However there is clearly room for maneuver in Ireland’s back three stocks, with Simon Zebo dropping out this time and Ulster winger Robert Baloucoune returning, so if Haley can continue to perform for Munster on a consistent basis – particularly in the Champions Cup – then he will surely remain part of the conversation around squad selections going forward. 

3. Ciarán Frawley (Leinster)

There has been plenty of clamour to get Frawley into the Ireland squad given the 24-year-old’s play-making ability and capacity to operate as a second receiver, qualities which would be expected to work in his favour given the direction Ireland’s gameplan appears to be heading.

He also offers versatility, as while he plays nearly all his rugby at 12, he can also cover out-half – the position he predominantly played when first breaking into the Leinster team – but it’s closing in on two years since he last started a game at 10 for the province.

nick-timoney-tackles-ciaran-frawley Ciarán Frawley offers a play-making option at 12. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

While Frawley is enjoying another encouraging season with Leinster, he has probably suffered from a lack of exposure recently due to the series of postponements and cancellations which have affected the province.

While other, more senior members of the Leinster squad can at least fall back on past experience at Test level, Frawley – who was included in the November squad but didn’t get capped – would surely have liked a couple of Christmas interpros to try catch the eye, as he has only managed to put together three appearances for Leinster since the end of October. 

4. Conor Oliver (Connacht)

The combative back rower has enjoyed an excellent campaign with Connacht, taking his game to a new level in his second season with the province.

The former Munster player feels he’s just beginning to hit his stride out west after taking a while to adapt to a different style of rugby, but he has quickly become an important part of Andy Friend’s plans, featuring 11 times for Connacht this season, with his all-action performance in the October win against Ulster perhaps his standout display.

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conor-oliver-and-nick-timoney Conor Oliver has hit new heights with Connacht this season. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

At 26 years of age, time is still on Oliver’s side when it comes to international rugby, but the high level of competition in the back row stocks will always make it difficult to take that next step in his career, with Josh van der Flier looking nailed on as Ireland’s starting openside for the time being, and Peter O’Mahony and Nick Timoney pushing for a spot on the bench.

5. Ross Molony (Leinster)

Perhaps not as close to making the cut as some of the players mentioned above, but Molony is currently delivering some of the best rugby of his career, and like Frawley, may have had a better chance of pushing himself up the queue were it not for Leinster’s five-week hiatus.

will-muir-competes-in-the-air-with-ross-molony Ross Molony was part of the Ireland squad during the summer internationals. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Molony has grown as a leader with Leinster and brings plenty of physicality, but with a mobile pack at the heart of Farrell’s plans for his Ireland team, he does not quite offer the same dynamism as some of his contemporaries in the second row, such as Leinster team-mate Ryan Baird, although his performances this season suggest this is an area he has been working on.

However, having been included in the squad for the summer internationals, Molony must have held some hope of stepping up given Iain Henderson’s ongoing injury issues – the Ulster lock having not played since mid-December. With the in-form Tadhg Beirne, James Ryan, and Ryan Baird all included as expected, Molony’s best chance might have been to pip Ulster’s Kieran Treadwell – who could win a first cap since 2017 – while Ultan Dillane’s omission can probably be chalked down to his impending move to France. 

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Ciarán Kennedy

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