Jacob Stockdale gets big chance to stake Ireland claim
Rising star Jacob Stockdale is poised to take the next step in his international career after being named in Joe Schmidt's Ireland squad for next month's autumn internationals.
The 21-year-old winger, who is one of half-a-dozen Ulster players included in the squad, has been in scintillating form for the province this season and has scored five tries after featuring in six games.
His strike rate could see the Lisburn-born player, who has already earned his first two Ireland caps from last summer's tour to the United States and Japan, being involved from the off when Ireland face South Africa on November 11.
Stockdale, who can also play at full-back and centre, scored a try on his debut against the States in New Jersey and has been hotly tipped to become a regular starter at Test level.
His elevation now seems more likely with Simon Zebo, who will join Racing 92 in France next season, having been left out of Schmidt's 38-man squad for next month's clashes with South Africa, Fiji and Argentina.
Strong-running Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey's form for the province has also been rewarded with a call-up.
Rory Best has, unsurprisingly, retained the Irish captaincy after recovering from his hamstring issue and will be joined in the squad by fellow frontline player Iain Henderson while second row Kieran Treadwell and hooker Rob Herring have also made the cut.
Stockdale only made his Ulster senior debut in January 2016 and the former Wallace High School pupil has racked up 14 tries from 30 appearances.
Stockdale's breakthrough came last season when he was Ulster's top try scorer with nine touchdowns in 18 games.
Making the squad is also a huge boost for McCloskey. The 25-year-old has just one Ireland cap and has not featured at Test level since his debut in the Six Nations against England in 2016.
Best should be in line to win his 105th cap against the Springboks and his fellow British and Irish Lions tourist Henderson will also be part of Schmidt's strongest selection as Ireland build towards next year's Six Nations.
A surprise inclusion sees Herring - whose only cap so far was won in Argentina in 2014 - brought in as hooker cover with Leinster's James Tracy likely to be Best's main back-up as Sean Cronin has missed out.
Second row Treadwell (22) won two caps on Ireland's summer tour and should add to that after impressing in his appearances against Japan.
Meanwhile, ex-Ulster player Chris Farrell - who joined Munster from Grenoble over the summer - has been called up and the 24-year-old centre is one of four uncapped players named by Schmidt. The others are Irish-qualified Connacht centre Bundee Aki, Leinster winger Adam Byrne and Munster back three ace Darren Sweetnam.
There are no places, though, for Luke Marshall and John Cooney. Veteran wingers Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble have also been overlooked, while the Irish-qualified Wiehahn Herbst and Louis Ludik aren't in either.
Jared Payne is omitted as he has not played since suffering headaches on the Lions tour, while Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding are both out as they are facing trial on rape charges.
FORWARDS (21): Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) c 104 caps, Jack Conan (Old Belvedere/Leinster) 4 caps, Ultan Dillane (Corinthians/Connacht) 10 caps, Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster) 16 caps, Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster) 70 caps, Iain Henderson (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 32 caps, Rob Herring (Ballynahinch/Ulster) 1 cap, Dave Kilcoyne (UL Bohemians/Munster) 20 caps, Dan Leavy (UCD/Leinster) 4 caps, Jack McGrath (St Mary's College/Leinster) 41 caps, Sean O'Brien (UCD/Leinster) 49 caps, Tommy O'Donnell (UL Bohemians/Munster) 12 caps, Peter O'Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster) 40 caps, Andrew Porter (UCD/Leinster) 2 caps, Rhys Ruddock (St Mary's College/Leinster) 16 caps, James Ryan (UCD/Leinster) 2 caps, John Ryan (Cork Constitution/Munster) 9 caps, CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster) 15 caps, Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster) 50 caps, James Tracy (UCD/Leinster) 4 caps, Kieran Treadwell (Ballymena/Ulster) 2 caps
BACKS (17): Bundee Aki (Galwegians/Connacht) uncapped, Adam Byrne (UCD/Leinster) uncapped, Joey Carbery (Clontarf/Leinster) 4 caps, Andrew Conway (Garryowen/Munster) 3 caps, Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster) 62 caps, Chris Farrell (Young Munster/Munster) uncapped, Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster) 29 caps, Dave Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster) 16 caps, Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster) 76 caps, Ian Keatley (Young Munster/Munster) 5 caps, Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht) 16 caps, Stuart McCloskey (Bangor/UIster) 1 cap, Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster) 4 caps, Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster) 57 caps, Johnny Sexton (St Mary's College/Leinster) 66 caps, Jacob Stockdale (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster) 2 caps, Darren Sweetnam (Cork Constitution/Munster) uncapped