Paddy Wallace’s Six Nations hopes received a blow yesterday when he was named in the 22-man Ireland A squad for Sunday's game against the England Saxons in Bath.
Although Wallace's inclusion in the A squad does not automatically mean that he won’t feature in the Six Nations opener against Italy on February 6, the centre must now be fearing the worst.
Ulster were strongly represented in the squad with Isaac Boss, Darren Cave, Ryan Caldwell and Ian Humphreys named as well as Rory Best.
Best recently returned to full-time training with Ulster and played for Banbridge in the AIB League at the weekend having recovered following neck surgery.
An IRFU statement said that the squad included players who have “recently made their returns from injury or who will be looking to increase their competitive game time ahead of the Six Nations”.
The exclusion of Andrew Trimble, who has run into the form of his life at just the right moment, and Tom Court would suggest they will have a role to play in the Grand Slam winners’ title defence.
However Court will face tough opposition with Cian Healy and Marcus Horan fancying their chances of keeping him at bay.
Stephen Ferris ought not to worry. The Lions blindside is certain to wear the number six .
But he is the only Ulsterman certain of a senior place.
At the start of the season, Chris Henry, Ulster’s captain, said his goal was to nail down his Ireland A place, this following his part in the Wolfhounds’ Churchill Cup triumph last summer.
Given his recent form, however, he could be forgiven for having revised that objective in the interim. His exclusion from the A squad may give him cause for optimism.
Ulster’s Leinster-bound scrum-half Isaac Boss is another who played in Ireland’s Churchill Cup-winning side but one doubts that he would necessarily see continuation behind the Wolfhounds pack as satisfying his ambitions.
One suspects he would prefer to be in the fray to face Italy on February 6 than England Saxons this Sunday. But prop Declan Fitzpatrick and lock Dan Tuohy would have had no problem returning to
The Rec whence they emerged victorious last Saturday night.
As new kids on the Irish block, inclusion in the Wolfhounds side would have delighted them, but neither were named in the side.
With the Stuart Lancaster-coached English still hurting after losing 49-22 to their Irish counterparts in the 2009 Churchill Cup final in Denver, they will feel they have scores to settle this weekend.
Ireland won’t mind that at all.
Ireland A squad: Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster), Isaac Boss (Ballymena/Ulster), Tony Buckley (Shannon/Munster), Darren Cave (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Ryan Caldwell (Dungannon/Ulster), Ian Dowling (Shannon/Munster), John Fogarty (De La Salle Palmerston/Leinster), Marcus Horan (Shannon/Munster), Ian Humphreys (Ballymena/Ulster), Denis Hurley (Cork Constitution/Munster), Shane Jennings (St Mary's College/Leinster), Keith Matthews (Buccaneers/Connacht), John Muldoon (Galwegians/Connacht), Fergus McFadden (Old Belvedere/Leinster), Johne Murphy (Leicester), Mick O'Driscoll (Cork Constitution/Munster), Sean O'Brien (Clontarf/Leinster), Niall Ronan (Shannon/Munster), Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster), Peter Stringer (Shannon/Munster), Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster), Paddy Wallace (Ballymena/Ulster).