Sean Reidy's on rise after earning his first Irish call-up
Joe Schmidt's Ireland squad to tour South Africa next month has thrown up a few surprises with Ulster's Sean Reidy getting the nod for the first time.
The flanker is the nephew of a former All Blacks prop but, having arrived in Belfast from his native New Zealand two years ago, is qualified for Ireland thanks to his Kerry-born grandfather.
After establishing himself as an important part of Ulster's squad during the World Cup last autumn, the 27-year-old forced his way into the starting side for the PRO12 run-in after Nick Williams' shoulder injury.
With Schmidt's back-row options depleted by injuries to Sean O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony and Josh van der Flier, the Aucklander will be hoping to make his international bow during the three-Test series having been picked ahead of seasoned Ireland squad-members like provincial team-mate Chris Henry and Munster's Tommy O'Donnell.
Ireland have never won a Test on South African soil and Schmidt admitted yesterday that the challenge this time around was all the more daunting given the current injury list.
"Touring South Africa will be arduous to say the least so we've attempted to prioritise players who are currently as close to full fitness as possible," he said.
"In what is always a difficult balancing act, we've taken a long-term view with a number of players who need a rest or will benefit from a full pre-season."
With Schmidt's assistants Andy Farrell and Simon Easterby in Belfast yesterday, one quarter of the 32-man panel for the tour will be plucked from the Kingspan Stadium with seven of Reidy's provincial team-mates joining him when the squad assemble early next week.
Rory Best will again captain the team having led Schmidt's men during the Six Nations, as Leinster's Jamie Heaslip acts as his deputy, with Iain Henderson joining Reidy as the other forward from Ulster.
Reidy is not the only uncapped member of the pack with Connacht's Quinn Roux also called in. The former Leinster lock will be touring his home country, having been born in Pretoria.
There is no place for Stuart McCloskey or Craig Gilroy among the backs selected by Schmidt. McCloskey (right) made his Ireland bow against England during the Six Nations but did not feature in the final two games and has been omitted from the party in favour of his team-mates Stuart Olding and Luke Marshall.
Marshall, who acted as 24th man throughout the spring without winning a cap, will be hoping for his first Test appearance since the tour to Argentina in 2014 while injuries have ruled Olding out of Ireland action since Georgia that November.
The inclusion of the duo, along with Jared Payne, also sees Leinster youngster Garry Ringrose joining McCloskey on the outside looking in.
Andrew Trimble, now back in favour after missing the World Cup, is selected as one of four wingers - Luke Fitzgerald, Keith Earls and Dave Kearney will all travel - meaning that free-scoring Gilroy and Matt Healy have again not made the cut.
Paddy Jackson has endured a frustrating time with Ireland of late but seems sure to make a return to green as he is named as the only specialised fly-half option other than Johnny Sexton.
Jackson's form throughout the past season has been stellar but he found himself outside the match-day 23 during the Six Nations and previously the World Cup. Schmidt had preferred the versatility of Ian Madigan but the Leinsterman's imminent move to Bordeaux-Begles in France's Top 14 has him out of the squad altogether.
Ireland squad to face South Africa Forwards: Finlay Bealham (Connacht), Rory Best (Ulster), Sean Cronin (Leinster), Ultan Dillane (Connacht), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), David Kilcoyne (Munster), Jack McGrath (Leinster), Jordi Murphy (Leinster), Sean Reidy (Ulster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Quinn Roux (Connacht), Rhys Ruddock (Leinster), Donnacha Ryan (Munster), CJ Stander (Munster), Richardt Strauss (Leinster), Devin Toner (Leinster).
Backs: Keith Earls (Munster), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster), Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Paddy Jackson (Ulster), David Kearney (Leinster), Rob Kearney (Leinster), Kieran Marmion (Connacht), Luke Marshall (Ulster), Conor Murray (Munster), Stuart Olding (Ulster), Jared Payne (Ulster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Johnny Sexton (Leinster), Andrew Trimble (Ulster).