Around 40 minutes after the youthful Wales squad for the upcoming Six Nations was released, Declan Kidney named his own initial 24 man senior squad, plus six additional players to train with them, and another 22 who will form the 02 Ireland Wolfhounds against the England Saxons on January 30th. The reaction, it’s fair to say, has been mixed.
The policy is fairly unique. The six players who will train with the squad but are not part of the main group, Simon Zebo, Ian Nagle, Peter O’Mahony, Tiernan O’Hallaron, Paddy McAllister and Andrew Conway, have been identified by Kidney as “younger players to have a closer look at”. They will train with the squad, but are unlikely to be selected for the Six Nations, though Nagle and Zebo have shown great promise.
Meanwhile, essentially left to prove themselves before the opening match of the Six Nations, are a group of players in the Wolfhounds who really should be in the senior squad straight up. Luke Fitzgerald missed out on the Rugby World Cup after a run of poor form that came following a long injury lay-off, and yet since his return for Leinster, he has been excellent. His tries against Bath in the Heineken Cup showed what a natural finisher he is. Yet for now Kidney is not convinced.
Fitzgerald could have been one of the options in the centre, an area where Ireland appear stubborn to progress by the continued selection of Gordon D’Arcy. Solid in defence but offering next to nothing in attack, Ireland’s need for a fresh edge in midfield is overdue. Fergus McFadden must start, but his partner for now is anonymous. Darren Cave’s injury in that respect is terrible timing, because before he injured his foot last week against Leicester he looked in fine form. Andrew Trimble is playing to a similar high level, although having spent most of his time on the wing this season he is more than capable at outside centre. Add to the list of options Eoin O’Malley, the young Leinsterman so highly rated at the club who despite his mentor Brian O’Driscoll being sidelined still does not get his break.
The same goes for the second row, where although Paul O’Connell must start as captain, Donnacha Ryan, Dan Tuohy and Devin Toner are banging down the door to get selected. Donnacha O’Callaghan is in the squad, but far from a certainty to start. Given that 34 year old Leo Cullen is due to fly to Sweden for operations on not one, but both Achilles tendons next week, his call-up is effectively pointless. Chris Henry is another forward whose good form for Ulster deserves recognition off the bench for the senior side.
No player in the initial senior squad is uncapped. But at the same time, it is a squad that in the second row and centres needs updating. If Kidney is a man of his word, then a few of those players whose exclusion from the Senior squad for now has come as a surprise, will be in the mix ahead of facing Wales.
by Ben Coles