The likelihood is that Andy Farrell and the Irish coaches will revert to the back three which started the victorious second and third Tests in New Zealand last July, but being recalled to the squad is a timely fillip for two of the relatively forgotten men, Jordan Larmour and Jacob Stocklade.
James Lowe is expected to be restored on the left wing, with Mack Hansen on other side of full- back Hugo Keenan against Wales next Saturday in the Principality Stadium in Ireland’s Six Nations opener (kick-off 2.15pm, live on Virgin Media and BBC).
Lowe’s X-factor was missed in November and perhaps a further recognition of this need is the decision to recall both Larmour and Stockdale. Both wingers won their last cap in the July 2021 win over Japan at the Aviva Stadium and last featured in the Six Nations against England in the Championship finale in 2021.
“It’s great to see him back, isn’t it?” said Farrell when asked of Larmour, the 25-year-old Leinster flyer, who has scored seven tries in 30 Tests. “He’s certainly a character we’ve missed around the place. If you could have 36 players of one type of personality, you’d probably want 36 Jordans. He’s such a great guy to work with.
“He’s so positive, so aware of himself, such a good team-mate etc. It’s great to see him back fully fit, and playing some pretty good rugby. I think of the break he made [against Racing 92] from the halfway line when Ross [Byrne] threw him the ball. It takes something special of an athlete to do what Jordan did.”
Larmour was a regular starter under Farrell until plagued with injuries but like Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster, Farrell never lost faith in him.
“Well, I know what type of talent he is and what he’s got in the locker but having said that he knows that what’s happened over the last couple of year as well. He knows that the competition’s grown in that department with Mack playing so well and James Lowe playing so well in that position.
“Then you’re hoping that Jacob Stockdale starts to fight and want to get to back to where he was. So it’s all good,” added Farrell of the 26-year-old Ulster winger, who has scored 19 tries in 35 caps for Ireland.
At the other end of the spectrum, the 21-year-old Jamie Osborne was the only uncapped player in the initial squad, a tribute to his versatility as well as his burgeoning talent.
“Well, you look at him and what I was talking about in terms of playing different positions, he’s played really well on the wing, he’s played in both centre positions and he’s grown up as a fullback.
“So he’s very comfortable and you see him there with the left peg and dropping into fullback with Leinster, he’s very comfortable there.
“It’s good for him because he’s been in our squad quite a few times now so he’s not coming in as that nervous kid. He’s been able to be himself and what’s been pretty impressive with that experience that he has had is that he’s made the best use of that when he’s been given the opportunity, with Robbie [Henshaw] being injured. He’s grabbed his chance, hasn’t he?”
Again the likelihood is that Farrell and co will revert to Bundee Aki, despite his recent difficulties with Connacht, or Stuart McCloskey, but if push came to shove the Irish coach has no doubt that Osborne is ready for his Test debut.
“I wouldn’t be picking someone that I couldn’t trust, if and when needed, but having said that we’ll see how people handle the pressure within camp because sometimes that’s just as fierce as it is on a matchday. So the next 12 days will tell us a lot.”
A second uncapped player, the Ulster hooker Tom Stewart, has joined the Ireland squad in Quinta do Lago in Portugal to provide additional cover after it emerged that Rónan Kelleher picked up a hamstring injury in training. The unlucky Kelleher last played for Ireland in the round two fixture away to France a year ago and is now a major doubt for Ireland’s opener in Cardiff.
An IRFU statement said: “Kelleher will be managed by the Ireland medical team over the coming days.”
The 22-year-old Stewart has scored seven tries in 11 appearances for Ulster this season and has usurped Dave Heffernan and Niall Scannell, both of whom featured on the summer tour to New Zealand.
A former Ireland Under-20 international, Stewart played twice for Emerging Ireland in the autumn, starting in the victories over the Griquas and the Cheetahs. The Ireland coaching group also included him in the matchday preparations for the Ireland ‘A’ game against the All Blacks XV in November.
The squad will continue to train in Portugal this week before flying to Cardiff on Thursday.
Bundee Aki (Connacht, 41 caps), Ross Byrne (Leinster, 14), Craig Casey (Munster, 7), Jack Crowley (Munster, 2), Keith Earls (Munster, 98), Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster, 23), Mack Hansen (Connacht, 8), Hugo Keenan (Leinster, 25), Jordan Larmour (Leinster, 30), James Lowe (Leinster, 15), Stuart McCloskey (Ulster, 9), Conor Murray (Munster, 100), Jimmy O’Brien (Leinster, 3), Jamie Osborne (Leinster, uncapped), Garry Ringrose (Leinster, 47), Johnny Sexton (Leinster, 109) (capt), Jacob Stockdale (Ulster, 35).
Ryan Baird (Leinster, 8), Finlay Bealham (Connacht, 27), Tadhg Beirne (Munster, 36), Jack Conan (Leinster, 33), Gavin Coombes (Munster, 2), Caelan Doris (Leinster, 23), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster, 63), Cian Healy (Leinster, 121), Iain Henderson (Ulster, 68), Rob Herring (Ulster, 31), Rónan Kelleher (Leinster, 18), Dave Kilcoyne (Munster, 48), Joe McCarthy (Leinster, 1), Peter O’Mahony (Munster, 89), Tom O’Toole (Ulster, 4), Andrew Porter (Leinster, 48), Cian Prendergast (Connacht, 1), James Ryan (Leinster, 48), Dan Sheehan (Leinster, 13), Tom Stewart (Ulster, uncapped), Josh van der Flier (Leinster, 45).