Paddy Jackson to make the cut as Ian Madigan misses out

Versatility of Stuart Olding and Luke Marshall will provide cover in South Africa

Ulster’s Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding: likely to be included in the 32-man Irish squad for tour of South Africa. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Ulster’s Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding: likely to be included in the 32-man Irish squad for tour of South Africa. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

The Ulster pair of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, neither of whom featured in any of the matches in the Six Nations, are likely to be included in a 32-man Irish squad which Joe Schmidt announces today for the forthcoming three-Test tour of South Africa, with Ian Madigan possibly set to miss out.

Madigan has been the de facto Irish back-up outhalf to Johnny Sexton throughout the World Cup and Six Nations, whereas Jackson has been confined to one appearance off the bench against Romania in the World Cup.

However, on foot of Madigan’s decision to join Bordeaux Bègles next season, Schmidt described the player’s move as unfortunate in the aftermath of the Six Nations finale at home to Scotland when Madigan was an unused replacement.

Furthermore, Madigan has been confined to just one start in the last eight weeks with Leinster, while his three appearances as a replacement in that time have amounted to a mere 22 minutes on the pitch, giving him just 88 minutes of rugby in eight weeks.

Superb form

Even the fit-again Olding has had more game time than Jackson of late, and his versatility would compensate for losing Madigan’s ability to play in several different positions as well.

Similarly, the form and versatility of Luke Marshall, who can play at both inside and outside centre, could see him included ahead of midfield partner Stuart McCloskey, whose new three-year deal with Ulster was confirmed yesterday.

Luke Fitzgerald, electric on the wing for Leinster last Friday, can also provide midfield cover.

Another tight call will concern the outside backs, where Simon Zebo’s recent keyhole surgery has left his selection vulnerable. Although Zebo is apparently back running this week, his fitness is thought to be touch and go.

Despite starting in five of Ireland’s games at the World Cup and the Six Nations, he is seemingly in a tight race for one back three spot, given the probable inclusion of Keith Earls, Fitzgerald, Andrew Trimble and Rob Kearney.

The versatility of both Olding and Marshall would also facilitate moving Jared Payne to fullback, if needs be, where he has been playing all his rugby for Ulster this season, and impressively so.

With Ireland certain to target the first game in Cape Town against a Springboks team under a new coaching structure in their first Test since the World Cup, the prospect of a second Test at altitude in Johannesburg followed by the third Test in Port Elizabeth makes it likely that the majority of the squad will see game time.

Accordingly, it seems likely that three scrumhalves will travel, namely Conor Murray, Eoin Reddan and Kieran Marmion, and three specialist hookers, captain Rory Best, Seán Cronin and Richardt Strauss.

Return to action

Cian HealyTadhg FurlongFinlay BealhamMike Ross

Donnacha Ryan’s 50-minute return to action for a Munster A side last week after suffering concussion in the consecutive defeats to Leinster and Connacht in early April would appear to constitute a strong pointer towards his return to the squad after missing the Irish squad get-together in Johnstown House at the end of April.

Timely boost

Iain HendersonMick KearneyPeter Browne

That said, the absence of Seán O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony and Josh van der Flier limits the backrow options. CJ Stander, Jamie Heaslip, Tommy O’Donnell and Rhys Ruddock – the loose forwards on duty in Ireland’s Six Nations win at home to Scotland – look sure to travel. Jordi Murphy’s performance against Ulster last Friday also looks like earning him a place in the squad, with Chris Henry also in the running.

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