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Farrell looks to future as new names drafted into Irish camp

 

Left out: Andy Farrell has opted to omit Rob Kearney from his Ireland get-together
Left out: Andy Farrell has opted to omit Rob Kearney from his Ireland get-together

By Cian Tracey

When Rob Kearney saw Andy Farrell's name flash up on his phone yesterday morning, he knew exactly what was coming.

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For all of the excitement surrounding Farrell naming his first training squad, the harsh reality of making those tough calls will have reminded him of the difficult task that lies ahead as Ireland head coach.

A group of 45 players will gather at the IRFU's new high performance centre in Abbotstown this weekend for what the union have described as a "mid-season stock take".

Call it what you like, it is a 24-hour training camp and those who are not included face the reality of being up against it to make it back for the Six Nations squad.

The amount of time spent on the training pitch will be limited as the idea behind meeting up is to introduce the players to some new ideas, which will be different to how things worked with Joe Schmidt in charge.

That Farrell opted to publicly release the squad should be welcomed, because under Schmidt's watch, it was kept under wraps until it leaked out in drips and drabs.

It may only be a small thing, but Farrell has started his tenure on a positive note, even if the likes of Kearney and Jordi Murphy will disagree.

Murphy's omission is hard to fathom, unless of course there is an injury we are unaware of. The flanker has been a key figure in Ulster winning all four of their Champions Cup games, which is on the back of an impressive debut season at Kingspan Stadium.

Eight uncapped players have been included, a clear nod to Farrell wanting to quickly turn the page after the World Cup.

All eight are unlikely to make the cut for the Six Nations, but for the likes of Will Connors and Tom O'Toole, this is a great opportunity to soak up as much information as possible in what will be their first experience of senior international rugby.

For other youngsters like Caelan Doris and Ronan Kelleher, they will have genuine aspirations of making their Ireland debut come the spring.

The door will still be open for the likes of Kearney and Murphy to force their way back in but, as a new dawn beckons, there is plenty to dissect from Farrell's first squad.

Back Three

Jordan Larmour's reign as Ireland's full-back draws ever closer. The 22-year-old has been superb this season and has replaced Kearney in Leinster's starting XV. He is set to do the same with Ireland too.

Jacob Stockdale has played in the No.15 jersey for the last two weeks, a position he often occupied for the Ireland Under-20s, and it will be fascinating to see where Farrell and new attack coach Mike Catt see the Ulsterman fitting in.

Part of the reason why Stockdale has been moved from the wing is to counteract Will Addison's suspension, but he will make the trip to Dublin.

Andrew Conway and Keith Earls' inclusion are no surprise, while Dave Kearney and Mike Haley have been rewarded.

Centre

Farrell is spoilt for choice in midfield as regular faces such as Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose and Chris Farrell have been joined by Rory Scannell and Stuart McCloskey, who are given a chance to kick-start their international careers.

Out-Half

Johnny Sexton's inclusion is notable purely because he is currently injured. All signs now point to the out-half becoming the next Ireland captain.

Jack Carty will be bitterly disappointed to have been overlooked. That has opened the door for Ross Byrne and the uncapped Billy Burns to come in, while Joey Carbery will take part despite not having played since the World Cup quarter-final due to an ankle injury.

Scrum-Half

Conor Murray knows he is under pressure because John Cooney's scintillating form is too good to ignore.

Caolin Blade's rise continues and, having spent time in Ireland camp earlier this year, he will be looking to kick on again with provincial rival Kieran Marmion left out.

Jamison Gibson-Park recently became Irish-qualified and the Kiwi is joined by Leinster team-mate Luke McGrath.

Front-Row

With Rory Best retired, there is an opening at hooker. Niall Scannell and Rob Herring will have their sights firmly set on it, but so too will Kelleher.

Dave Heffernan is a surprise inclusion, while Sean Cronin's days look numbered having been omitted.

Ulster tighthead duo Marty Moore and O'Toole (21) get a chance to impress at the expense of John Ryan.

Second-Row

Devin Toner has proved many people wrong, Schmidt included, since being overlooked for the World Cup squad and is back in on merit.

So too is Quinn Roux, who lost out to Jean Kleyn for the tighthead lock spot in Japan, while Ultan Dillane could profit from Beirne's spell out.

Back-Row

Plenty of familiar flankers will take part in the mini-camp, but it is the younger brigade who are generating the most excitement. The inclusion of Connors is a sure sign that Farrell is already building for the future.

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Doris could start in the Six Nations opener, especially if he continues to wear Leinster's No.8 jersey in Europe.

Max Deegan will have something to say about that however, and he too has earned a call-up to add to what is a hugely competitive area.

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