Mike Ross retained in Ireland Six Nations squad despite losing Leinster place

O’Brien returns to congested backrow as Fitzgerald and Earls offer backline boost

Martin Moore has ousted Mike Ross at provincial level but Joe Schmidt has kept the 35-year-old in the international set-up. Photograph: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Martin Moore has ousted Mike Ross at provincial level but Joe Schmidt has kept the 35-year-old in the international set-up. Photograph: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

 

Mike Ross’s exclusion from the Leinster squad that beat Castres last weekend has, clearly, not impacted on his involvement with Ireland. But history can provide a lesson here.

Tom Tierney returned to Munster after the 1999 World Cup to find his position filled by Peter Stringer. Not only did Stringer refuse to return the number nine jersey but over the ensuing decade he commandeered the national slot a record 98 times.

A similar situation appears to be unfolding in Leinster at tighthead prop and scrumhalf. Tadhg Furlong and Luke McGrath are not in Joe Schmidt’s 46-man training camp, yet both are pressing hard for inclusion in Matt O’Connor’s immediate plans.

In the meantime, Ross is retained by Ireland along with Marty Moore and the uncapped Nathan White. That means no room for Furlong or the thrice-capped Rodney Ah You.

With Moore and White injured, Ah You was used sparingly off the bench in November as Ross started all three victories over South Africa, Georgia and Australia.

Isaac Boss and Eoin Reddan remain the Leinster offerings to under-study Conor Murray, along with Connacht’s increasingly influential 22-year-old Kieran Marmion.

The inclusion of four scrumhalves indicates continued concern over Murray’s neck injury. Neither he nor Simon Zebo are expected to be risked in Munster’s dead rubber against Sale at Thomond Park on Sunday.

Four loosehead props are also selected with Michael Bent recalled alongside Munster’s James Cronin, the almost fit Cian Healy and the soon to be unsuspended Jack McGrath. Dave Kilcoyne is rehabilitating an injured knee.

Promoted

See Jordi Murphy springing over Tommy O’Donnell last season, before his injury opened the door for Dominic Ryan in November and now Jack Conan.

Of course, Murphy’s selection was partly due to Seán O’Brien’s double surgery enforced absence. O’Brien has not worn the green jersey since his ferocious display against the All Blacks in November 2013 and, having played just one match this season, was not deemed fit to feature against Wasps in Leinster’s do-or-die Champions Cup match tomorrow. But he is included in the Ireland panel alongside the aforementioned quartet and Rhys Ruddock.

The congested backrow also includes Ulster’s Robbie Diack and Iain Henderson, who equally covers lock, essentially meaning eight players are scrapping for one position beside Peter O’Mahony and Jamie Heaslip.

The Wolfhounds game against the Saxons in Musgrave Park next Friday could possibly provide gametime for McGrath, Healy, O’Brien, Ross, Ruddock and Henderson. All told, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt might just be able to field his best pack in Rome on February 7th. France come to Dublin seven days later.

But still, injuries remain the topical issue. The door is left ajar for Luke Marshall, Donnacha Ryan and Andrew Trimble but Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, Dan Tuohy and Damien Varley are on the long-term list.

Olding is a considerable loss having looked so sharp at inside centre despite Ulster’s miserable campaign.

However, it is worth noting the inclusion of a solitary exile, Jonathan Sexton, even if the Racing Metro outhalf awaits clearance from a French neurologist following four head injuries since March.

The return of Luke Fitzgerald and Keith Earls provides a serious injection of three-quarter talent. Fitzgerald has featured just once for Ireland under Schmidt, off the bench against New Zealand, while Earls’ last cap was the defeat to Italy in Rome almost two years ago.

“The coaching group have tried to strike a balance between some players getting the chance to fully complete their rehabilitation programmes, or get a bit of rest and others getting the opportunity to push their claims with further game time in the Wolfhounds fixture,” was Schmidt’s considered statement.

It remains unclear which players are earmarked for the Six Nations and who will play the Saxons. In contrast, England coach Stuart Lancaster provided clarity on Wednesday by releasing separate squads.

The Wolfhounds will be coached by Connacht’s Dan McFarland and Leinster’s Richie Murphy but Schmidt, presumably, will pick the team.

Ireland will host three open training sessions throughout the Six Nations

– the first taking place in the Aviva Stadium next Friday, when the under-20s squad will also be present. Entry is free but for health and safety reasons the 5,000 tickets will be distributed via Ticketmaster and the IRFU.

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