No room for McCloskey in Irish squad
There were no wildcard inclusions but at least one eye-catching omission among the Ulster contingent in Joe Schmidt's 44-man training squad for the World Cup announced yesterday.
Rugby round up Newsletter
While six of his team-mates got the call, there was no room in the large panel for Stuart McCloskey, the province's double Player of the Year who was last week selected onto the PRO14 Team of the Season.
Rory Best, Jacob Stockdale, Iain Henderson, John Cooney, Rob Herring and Jordi Murphy all got the expected nod, as did the man who will join them at Kingspan next season, Jack McGrath, and Munster's Fivemiletown native Chris Farrell.
All hope is not lost for those not named yesterday, with head coach Joe Schmidt suggesting some more players may yet be added.
"The provinces have done a great job throughout the season with all four of them being involved in two sets of play-offs," he said.
"There were some very close calls in selection and it's always a challenging process because the coaching group are very conscious of how hard the players work. It's ideal that they get a good opportunity to relax for a few weeks before getting stuck into pre-season training and a busy 'Summer Series' in the lead-up to the World Cup.
"Some players have missed out through injury and there are one or two guys that may be added into the squad at a later stage."
Such a statement will give heart to the likes of Will Addison. The former Sale back impressed after arriving at Ulster in the summer, and had even trained with Ireland prior to first pulling on the white jersey.
He won his first caps in the autumn but has not played since January due to a back injury. Addison’s former Sale team-mate Mike Haley, who joined Munster this season, did get the call, likewise his Thomond Park colleague Jean Kleyn, the South African-born lock who qualifies on residency in August.
Other Ulster players who will have been hoping to get a call but were left waiting could include Sean Reidy, Marty Moore and even young Eric O’Sullivan, who was name checked earlier in the season by Schmidt.
McCloskey was far and away the most surprising exclusion, however. Five centres were picked ahead of him — Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose, Chris Farrell and Rory Scannell.
Scannell hasn’t been capped since the summer 2017 tour to Japan but is the one man to apparently leapfrog McCloskey, who appeared in each of the last two Novembers after a 2016 debut.
The players will report to camp on June 16, with the first of four warm-up games slated for August 10 against Italy at the Aviva Stadium and a final squad then announced in September.
Ireland training squad: Forwards (24) - F Bealham, R Best, T Beirne, J Conan, S Cronin, U Dillane, T Furlong, C Healy, I Henderson, R Herring, D Kilcoyne, J Kleyn*, J McGrath, J Murphy, T O’Donnell, P O’Mahony, A Porter, R Ruddock, James Ryan, John Ryan, N Scannell, CJ Stander, D Toner, J van der Flier; Backs (20) - B Aki, R Byrne, J Carbery, J Carty, A Conway, J Cooney, K Earls, C Farrell, M Haley*, R Henshaw, D Kearney, R Kearney, J Larmour, K Marmion, L McGrath, C Murray, G Ringrose, R Scannell, J Sexton, J Stockdale.
*denotes uncapped player
Unavailable due to injury: D Leavy, S O’Brien.
World Cup warm-up fixtures: Ireland v Italy, Aviva Stadium, Saturday August 10, 2pm; England v Ireland, Twickenham Stadium, Saturday August 24, 3pm; Wales v Ireland, Principality Stadium, Saturday August 31, 2.30pm; Ireland v Wales, Aviva Stadium, Saturday September 7, 2pm.