Belfast Telegraph

Ulster seven are named in Irish squad as Ashton banned

By Jonathan Bradley

While Rory Best's appointment as captain dominated the talk surrounding Ireland's Six Nations squad announcement yesterday, the hooker was one of seven Ulster players receiving good news.

Away from the decision of who would succeed Paul O'Connell, the big news was a call-up for the uncapped Stuart McCloskey while his in-form midfield partner Luke Marshall is back in the fold having not appeared in the Test side since the 2014 tour to Argentina.

Rob Herring, Paddy Jackson, Andrew Trimble and Jared Payne round out the Ulster contingent while the likes of Tommy Bowe, Iain Henderson and Dan Tuohy were not considered due to injury.

Chris Henry is not in the initial panel but is expected to return in the later rounds but there was no place for the fit-again Darren Cave, who was part of the World Cup squad and will play for Ulster against Oyonnax this weekend, wing Craig Gilroy or back-rower Robbie Diack.

Inside centre McCloskey has been rewarded for a fine run of performances this season that has already saw him called to Carton House as part of the extended training squad assembled at the start of this month.

Still just 23, McCloskey has featured in all of Ulster's 16 games this season, scoring three tries, and is one of four new faces in the squad. Recently qualified CJ Stander, Leinster's Josh van der Flier and Connacht lock Ultan Dillane are the others with no Test experience.

Head coach Joe Schmidt has said that other youngsters will remain with their provinces for game time.

"As always there were a number of tight decisions, especially with a number of players not being available to play in recent weeks," he said.

"Stalwarts such as Mike Ross, Cian Healy and Chris Henry are all likely to return to play over the coming weeks and they, along with some of the other players not included, will potentially return post these first two matches.

"There are a few new faces but at the same time we have resisted the temptation to include some of the very promising youngsters, allowing them a bit more time to develop as well as the opportunity of further game time with their provinces.

"With plenty of new personnel involved, the Championship is going to be incredibly challenging and the players selected will know they will need to be at their best to be competitive."

Marshall's return to the international set-up was not all that had him in the headlines yesterday after England and Saracens wing Chris Ashton was handed a 10-week ban.

The 28-year-old was found guilty of making contact with Marshall's eye after an incident that occurred in the 17th minute of Ulster's Champions Cup loss at Allianz Park last Saturday.

Having been called into Eddie Jones' first England squad after an international absence that stretched back to 2014, Ashton will now miss the entire Six Nations tournament and not return until March 28.

He has the option of an appeal with Saracens yesterday saying they were considering their options before making any decision.

it has been announced that former Ireland full-back Conor O'Shea will leave his post as Harlequins Director of Rugby.

The 45-year-old has been in charge at the Stoop since 2010 and led the London outfit to the Premiership title in 2012. He has been heavily linked with the Italian national team but has insisted that as of yet he doesn't know what his next move will be.

Belfast Telegraph


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