Injuries and form shape Joe Schmidt’s squad
The captaincy issue to be resolved next week ahead of three November tests against Samoa, Australia and New Zealand
Leinster’s Jack McGrath has seen his early-season form rewarded by a call-up to the Ireland squad for the Autumn Internationals. Photograph; Morgan Treacy/Inpho
The DNA of the Ireland squad, chosen by national coach Joe Schmidt, for the November test series can be traced to the final match in last season’s Six Nations Championship, a 22-15 defeat to Italy in Rome and the two-match summer tour to North America when an Ireland squad, minus the Irish Lions contingent, beat the USA and Canada, in that order.
Inevitably injuries intervened in the selection process, denying Schmidt players like Stephen Ferris, Richardt Strauss, Tommy O’Donnell, Jordi Murphy, Simon Zebo and over the weekend, Donnacha Ryan – out for 10 weeks with torn knee ligaments sustained in Munster’s Heineken Cup victory over Gloucester – and Ulster’s Iain Henderson, who damaged a big toe in Ulster’s superb win in Montpellier.
Craig Gilroy, Ireland’s starting right wing in Rome, is sidelined with an ankle injury, and Luke Fitzgerald, who was on the bench that day, is busy accumulating game time following a prolonged, enforced absence through injury.
Brian O’Driscoll (calf) has been named in the squad, on the basis that his return to action is, if not imminent, likely to be in the next fortnight to three weeks.
A problem will be match sharpness. He’s played once this season, for Leinster in a RaboDirect Pro 12 game against the Cardiff Blues. It’s a pretty tough ask for his second to be a Test match against Samoa, Australia or New Zealand.
Mike Ross (hamstring) has also been named in the national squad. He limped off after 16 minutes of Leinster’s Heineken Cup win against the Ospreys last Saturday week and will undergo a fitness test tomorrow to ascertain his availability for this weekend’s Pro 12 clash with Connacht at the RDS.
The composition of the squad thereafter is based as Schmidt outlined on “players who have shown form in the domestic season mixed with those who have a proven record at international level.
“As always there were some very difficult decisions. Some players have had limited opportunity to impress due to injury and others have performed very well and it was difficult to leave them out.”
The issue of the captaincy will be resolved next week. The national squad convenes on Sunday night to prepare for the autumn series. Peter O’Mahony led Ireland on the two-Test summer tour in the absence of Jamie Heaslip, who was in Australia with the British and Irish Lions.
Andrew Trimble (Ulster) and Niall Morris (Leicester Tigers) will have formed some part of a discussion in relation to the three-quarters line options. Fergus McFadden started both Tests in North America on the right wing, but Schmidt has opted for the younger Kearney ahead of Trimble – he lined out against Canada – and Morris, who toured with Emerging Ireland to Georgia.