CJ Stander and Garry Ringrose among new faces at Ireland camp

Johnny Sexton, Seán O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip all contenders for captaincy

Munster captain CJ Stander, having qualified via the three-year residency rule, Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey and 22-year-old Connacht lock Ultan Dillane were notable additions as Ireland formally commenced their quest to capture an unprecedented three-in-a row Six Nations titles.

Leinster duo Josh van der Flier and Garry Ringrose were also among almost 50 players in a pseudo-secretive 24-hour gathering in Carton House yesterday evening.

The Irish management typically believed it prudent not to release the list of those present.

The provincial coaches were more forthcoming after the recent round of interprovincials in Dublin and Belfast.

Pat Lam revealed that four of his Connacht players were called up while Les Kiss marked 11 Ulstermen absent until Tuesday (Munster play their rescheduled game against Stade Français in Paris on Saturday while Ulster travel to Oyonnax on Sunday).

Good recognition

Along with Dillane, the Paris-born 6ft 6in lock who has lived in Kerry since he was seven, it’s believed Connacht scrumhalf Kieran Marmion, prop

Nathan White

and Robbie Henshaw travelled from the west.

“It’s good recognition for Ultan,” said Lam after Leinster’s 13-0 victory at the RDS on Friday night. “Joe’s seen the abrasiveness, the youth, the enthusiasm, and being part of that camp, considering the players and coaches available, will be great for his development.”

Henshaw is due to return to the field of play before the end of the month after fracturing his hand in November.

Johnny Sexton suffered a minor knee injury on Friday and not, according to Leinster coach Leo Cullen, a recurrence of any previous problems.

The 30-year-old outhalf is one of three Leinster players in line to be named national captain to succeed the two greatest leaders in Irish rugby history.

The injury profile of Sexton and Seán O'Brien makes Jamie Heaslip a serious alternative. His previous time as captain was for Ireland's World Cup quarter-final defeat to Argentina and through a difficult 2013 Six Nations campaign when they only beat Wales.

“[O’Brien] shows a lot of leadership qualities for sure,” said Cullen when asked about his becoming the next Ireland captain. “He plays a big role in our leadership group so I’m sure he will play a big role with Ireland’s leadership group whether he is actually captain or not. He is definitely a strong leadership figure for Leinster or Ireland.”

Excellent form

As the longest-serving member of Ireland’s senior playing core,

Rory Best

is the other option but he’s currently the Ulster captain and the dual captaincy role has been deemed unfeasible in the past.

Another factor in Heaslip’s favour has been his consistently excellent form. The same can be said about Best and O’Brien, with the latter in phenomenal form since returning from a concussion-related issue.

"Stuart will be going down, Luke Marshall is going down too," said Kiss after Ulster's 9-7 home loss to Munster on Saturday in the Kingspan Stadium when Marshall suffered yet another concussion.

Joe Schmidt has also yet to name a replacement for Kiss as defence coach.

“I have got no idea,” Kiss said. “I imagine they will manage it internally for now.”

Meanwhile, Fergus McFadden has been cited by the independent citing commissioner for an alleged act of stamping/trampling on an Connacht player in the eighth minute of Friday’s Pro12 game.

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