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Conan, a comeback and more talking points as Joe Schmidt names his 1st World Cup squad

The World Cup starts here!
Jun 24th 2015, 9:30 PM 24,746 27

No change in out-half pecking order

THE OMISSION OF Ian Keatley from Ireland’s World Cup squad should be a source of disappointment for the Munster playmaker, but it can’t be a surprise. Of all Joe Schmidt’s selection quandaries half-back must be the most clear cut of all.

Ian Keatley Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ever since he took charge of the green jerseys, Schmidt has wrestled with whether Paddy Jackson had versatility to cover fullback and centre as a replacement or if Ian Madigan had the game management skills to start. He will continue to try and find the balance in the August warm-up fixtures.

Keatley filled in manfully with Jackson and Sexton injured at the beginning of the Six Nations, but even a Pro12 title probably wouldn’t have been enough for him to oust Sexton’s supporting cast.

Conan comes of age

23 next month, Jack Conan is the youngest and least experienced of the eight back rows in camp. Yet all his peers will know they are in for serious competition from the abrasive number eight.

Jack Conan and Noel Reid Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Conan set out for the Tbilisi Cup in a supporting role for Rhys Ruddock who had hoped to springboard his way back into the Starting XV. Yet even before Ruddock’s problematic forearm pulled him out of contention, Conan was already stepping up to lead his team.

This call-up is more than merited as will the inevitable cap that comes his way in August. We wouldn’t be surprised if he was to earn a further handful of appearances in England and Wales come September.

McCloskey not among ‘Emerging’ talent

Perhaps the meteoric rise was just too quick to be true. Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey appeared to putting himself forward to be this year’s ‘bolter’ with some explosive moments in the closing weeks of Ulster’s season.

However, after playing at 12 and 13 in Emerging Ireland’s Tbilisi Cup win, the ‘Bangor Bulldozer’ has been omitted from the 45-man squad. For a man who hadn’t even played for Ulster 16 months ago, he’s done well just to be in the conversation.

Stuart McCloskey is tackled McCloskey taking the ball in to contact against Georgia. Source: Tamuna Kulumbegashvili/INPHO

Instead, 25-year-old Noel Reid fills the centre spot reserved for an Emerging Ireland bolter. Yet it still appears that Gordon D’Arcy is the most likely option to pull on a starting jersey if injury was to befall either Jared Payne or Robbie Henshaw.

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Along with Reid; Conan and Rob Herring graduated directly from the Emerging squad. The front row dominates the group of hard-done-by men from that trip as Stephen Archer, James Cronin and Denis Buckley miss out on the seven prop places.

Many happy returns

Schmidt has included a handful of players who will nurse injuries through the first weeks of camp (including Cian Healy, Conor Murray and Luke Fitzgerald), so it is heartening to see returning stalwarts who had been absent for too long.

Chris Henry presents an out-and-out openside option for Schmidt and is sure to push Sean O’Brien very close for the number 7 jersey. However, Donnacha Ryan has spent even longer on the sidelines,

Donnacha Ryan Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The past year and a half has been an utterly frustrating one for Ryan. The Tipperary man picked up an innocuous-sounding toe injury in March 2014 and was kept out of the starting line-up for 13 long months.

The lock has slowly been able to build up form and fitness since his April return, but his inclusion here will add another hard edge to Schmidt’s squad.

A prayer for the wingers

Every position will bear witness to fierce competition, but it’s the back three that will be the toughest to call.

Craig Gilroy congratulated by Simon Zebo and Fergus McFadden Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

If we assume that Rob Kearney and Felix Jones will command two places as Ireland’s only specialist fullbacks, then Schmidt will be looking to fill four wing places from: Luke Fitzgerald, Tommy Bowe, Keith Earls, Fergus McFadden, Simon Zebo, Dave Kearney, (2014 Six Nations player of the Championship) Andrew Trimble and (Ireland’s most prolific try-scorer this season) Craig Gilroy.

If fit, Fitzgerald and Bowe are all but guaranteed a place (not least because both can also play centre), but after that, you’re into tight calls based on form and gut feeling.

- Originally published 19.00

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