Gerry Thornley: Ireland’s Six Nations squad will be named tomorrow. Who will be in it?

With old reliables to the fore, Andy Farrell has plenty of options as he prepares to name his squad

As is often the case, but perhaps particularly so when Andy Farrell unveils Ireland’s squad for the Six Nations tomorrow morning, the talking points are likely to focus more on the players who don’t make the cut than those who do. Farrell and his assistant coaches are compiling the squad from a position of almost rude health.

With the World Cup looming at the end of the year, time is running out for prospective bolters and, save for Jamie Osborne, it is hard to envisage anyone else making the cut when a squad in the mid-30s is announced.

That number may well rise to around 37, as was the case for last year’s Six Nations, or even more if there are any lingering doubts over the fitness of some players, such as Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw and Tadhg Furlong.

However, it is a measure of the task for Osborne and others that Farrell and his coaching ticket ultimately took 41 players to New Zealand on last summer’s tour. In addition, Robert Baloucoune and Calvin Nash featured in the initial 37-man squad for November’s Nations Series, while Jack Crowley, Ross Byrne, Caolin Blade, Gavin Thornbury, Max Deegan and Scott Penny were all called up subsequently.


What is more, David Kilcoyne, Ronan Kelleher and Iain Henderson were all effectively ruled out of both the New Zealand tour and the Autumn Series. Hence, including Osborne in the mix, Farrell and co are selecting a squad from circa 53 players, of whom only Baloucoune, hamstrung again, and Ciarán Frawley appear to be ruled out at this juncture.

Indeed, 45 players represented Ireland over the course of 11 Tests in 2022, and add in the three Ireland A games against the Maori All Blacks and an All Blacks XV, plus the Emerging Ireland tour, and Farrell and co had 84 players in camp last year. They certainly can’t be accused of not casting their net widely.

In addition to the seven outside backs who went on the New Zealand tour, Jacob Stockdale is now fit again while Calvin Nash and Shane Daly are having their best seasons with Munster. Both went on the Emerging Ireland tour and featured in the Irish A game, with Nash also promoted to the senior squad.

He could well make the cut, possibly at the expense of Michael Lowry, for despite his omission by Munster last week Keith Earls remains both highly valued and on a central contract.

In truth, Osborne would not be that much of a bolter, for the investment in him goes back to him training with the senior squad in November 2021 and took in both the Griquas and Cheetahs games in South Africa, while he also was one of the better performers in the A game against the All Blacks.

With his size, physique, acceleration, footwork and passing/offloading game, the 21-year-old has huge potential. It could be that Henshaw’s ongoing recovery from a wrist operation, which will probably rule him out of Ireland’s opening game against Wales next Saturday fortnight, will contribute to Osborne being named, but most probably if five centres are included, as it is hard to see Stuart McCloskey being omitted after playing all three November Tests.

That said, in much of this the old adage that the better a team goes, the more individuals are rewarded — ie a rising tide lifts all boats — ­ again won’t harm Leinster’s representation. In contrast, one or two Ulster players may suffer for their side’s run of six defeats in their last seven games, even if luck has not been on the province’s side and the margins have often been tiny.

Jack Crowley assuredly did enough in November to ensure his inclusion, not least with his ability to play at inside centre as well, but with a phone call to Ross Byrne to assure him he is back in the mix.

For Earls, read Conor Murray, and it seems highly probable that the trio of scrum-halves will remain the same as for last year’s Six Nations, the New Zealand tour and November. That said, Paddy Patterson must be entering the conversation as well as Blade, Murray’s replacement in the squad last autumn.

Conceivably, with Kelleher, Kilcoyne and Henderson all fit again, Farrell could name the exact same 20 forwards from the 2022 Six Nations squad for this year’s competition.

However, the investment in a trio of players who have all made strides since then — Jeremy Loughman, Joe McCarthy and Cian Prendergast — means they are all likely to be included. Loughman has had his niggles lately, but started both Maori games and the Ireland A match, as well as starting on his Test debut in November against Fiji. Ala Tom O’Toole also has the skill set and strength, that the Irish coaching ticket admire.

That applies in spades to McCarthy, who, like Prendergast, also featured on the Emerging Ireland tour, when the latter was one of the squad leaders. Since then Prendergast also made his debut against Fiji and has been playing regularly for Connacht.

Max Deegan hasn’t played since Leinster’s win over Munster on St Stephen’s Day due to an ankle injury, while after standing out in both Maori games, Gavin Coombes has responded to being supplanted by Deegan after that A match in November by upping his fitness levels, game involvements and game understanding in a series of big performances.

His return to the fold would be nothing less than a fair reward.