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Which Ulster players are set for Six Nations joy and which are set for disappointment?

Are Ulster trio (from left) John Cooney, Billy Burns and Tom O'Toole set for Ireland honours in the Six Nations?
Are Ulster trio (from left) John Cooney, Billy Burns and Tom O'Toole set for Ireland honours in the Six Nations?
Adam McKendry

Adam McKendry

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell is set to name his first squad for the upcoming Six Nations on Wednesday afternoon, with several Ulster players sitting nervously by the phone waiting for news.

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Nine Ulster players were called into Farrell's "stock-take" squad last month, with all of them in with a shot of making the final squad that will return to Abbotstown.

45 players were at that informal gathering last month, with Farrell expected to cull five to seven players from that group to form his first ever Ireland squad.

Here, we assess which Ulster players should be relatively confident of their inclusion, and who should be sweating it out...

The locks

John Cooney

Whether or not he will start the first game against Scotland is a debate to be had later, but what is certain is that Cooney simply has to be named in the squad given his recent form.

Perhaps the most in-form scrum-half in world rugby, let alone Europe or even Ireland, the Dubliner has been putting serious pressure on Conor Murray's jersey, making him a guaranteed squad member, if not starter.

Iain Henderson

He hasn't been in sensational form since returning from World Cup duty, but Henderson continues to produce enough moments that you know that terrorizing ball-carrier is still there.

Ireland have devoted a lot of time to forming a long-term lock pairing between him and James Ryan, and chances are that will continue in the Six Nations.

Rob Herring

While his line-out throwing has come under scrutiny in recent weeks, Herring's line-out throwing is still better than his rivals for the No.2 jersey and his work-rate around the park is even better.

Will likely be competing for the starting jersey against Scotland with Munster's Niall Scannell, would seem highly likely he'll finally make his first Six Nations appearance this spring.

Jacob Stockdale

Had to endure a long try-less spell with Ulster, which probably overshadowed a lot of the good work he was doing, but Stockdale would still be one of the top wingers in the country.

A shift to full-back in December helped with getting him on the ball more often, which has seen him rediscover both his try-scoring touch and his ability to produce game-changing moments.

The maybes

Will Addison

Addison, if fit, will be included. Ulster have been bullish about his availability for Saturday's game against Bath, however having to use crutches to get around the airport last Saturday makes this seem a tad optimistic.

Was set to battle it out for the full-back jersey with Jordan Larmour, and his versatility made him an attractive prospect for the No.23 slot even if he didn't start. Farrell will be keenly interested in his chances of playing this weekend.

Billy Burns

The likelihood is that three fly-halves will be a part of the squad, and with Joey Carbery now out of contention, that opens the door for Burns to get his first Six Nations call.

There is the possibility that Farrell will elect to go with just Johnny Sexton and Ross Byrne, of course, but with the former's injury concerns, it would make sense that he'll also include Burns, who deserves the call-up for his excellent form for Ulster anyway.

Stuart McCloskey

Similar to Cooney, there's not a great deal more McCloskey could have done to stake his claim for a spot in the extended squad given his sensational recent displays, particularly in the interpros.

The problem is Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw are ensconced in the Ireland squad and haven't done a great deal wrong to deserve being dropped. This could be one of the key decisions that determines if Farrell tries to establish a new era or sticks with the tried and trusted of the Schmidt era.

Marty Moore

Similar to Addison, fitness will determine whether Moore gets the call down to Abbotstown or not. His injury outlook looks more optimistic than his team-mates', though, so he should travel.

His chance at getting some game-time - again, fitness willing - seems good too. Tadhg Furlong is the firm first choice at No.3, but Moore's Ulster performances will surely have him pushing Andrew Porter as the back-up.

The outsiders

Jack McGrath

Not named in the original stock-take squad last month, McGrath has come back into the Ulster set-up after injury and picked up where he left off with two big displays against Connacht and Munster, surely forcing his way back into the equation.

Unfortunately, his scrummaging against Clermont is the most recent performance Farrell will have to judge on, and it's hard to suggest he's done enough to displace one of Cian Healy, Dave Kilcoyne or the dual-sided Andrew Porter for one of the three spots on offer.

Jordi Murphy

Was also not included in last month's stock-take and then proceeded to miss the games against Connacht (mandated rest) and Munster (illness), which certainly won't have done him any favours for changing Farrell's opinion.

His performances this season for Ulster, on the whole, have been solid, but the young Leinster trio of Will Connors, Max Deegan and Caelan Doris have all been in scintillating form down in Dublin, and the whispers suggest that's where Farrell is leaning.

Tom O'Toole

Being called down to the stock-take last month was just reward for O'Toole, who has started the season really strongly and is still just 21-years-old, but chances are he won't be making the return trip for the Six Nations given the competition ahead of him.

He's yet to start a Champions Cup match and is behind Moore in the pecking order at Ulster, but his time will certainly come, especially if he can continue his strong form while his team-mate is likely absent during the next few months.

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