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Zebo left out of Irish squad as Schmidt targets World Cup

 

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Joe Schmidt won't like it, but understandably the omission of Simon Zebo from his Ireland squad drew all the focus when the panel was named yesterday.

The head coach stuck to his routine by avoiding a press conference to go with the announcement so we are left with plenty of questions about his thinking.

What is clear, however, is that the Ireland coach has one eye on the 2019 World Cup with the squad that he's named.

As well as four new caps, three of whom are 24 and younger, Schmidt has included four 21-year-olds who made their Ireland debuts over the course of the summer tour.

Three of them, Jacob Stockdale, James Ryan and Andrew Porter, were leading lights when the U-20s reached the 2016 World Cup final, while the fourth - Ulster's Kieran Treadwell - played underage for England but qualifies for Ireland through his parents.

Add them to new faces Darren Sweetnam, Adam Byrne and Chris Farrell and you have a fresh influx of youth.

Bundee Aki is the fourth newcomer, but he falls into a different bracket as an experienced operator with Super Rugby experience who is set to go straight into the team that will face South Africa in just over two weeks' time.

The Aucklander has long been ear-marked for an Ireland jersey and is set to have a big role to play - especially as Garry Ringrose is injured.

Often fiery, sometimes controversial and never dull, his relationship with the disciplinarian Schmidt will be worth watching.

He is likely to be the only new face given an opportunity in week one, although Zebo's absence - plus the decision not to select Ulster duo Andrew Trimble and Tommy Bowe - means there is a vacancy in the back-three to fight for and Ulsterman Stockdale is in the mix.

Schmidt is likely to for an experienced line-up in week one, before rotating against Fiji and then restoring most of the front-liners against Argentina.

Up front, Rory Best is named as captain. Second-row looks a simple enough call with Devin Toner likely to be joined by Ulster's Iain Henderson.

Ireland squad for Autumn Internationals

Forwards: R Best (Ulster, capt), J Conan (Leinster), U Dillane (Connacht), T Furlong, C Healy (both Leinster), I Henderson, R Herring (both Ulster), D Kilcoyne (Munster), D Leavy, J McGrath, S O'Brien (all Leinster), T O'Donnell, P O'Mahony (both Munster), A Porter, R Ruddock, James Ryan (all Leinster), John Ryan, CJ Stander (both Munster), D Toner, J Tracy (both Leinster), K Treadwell (Ulster).

Backs: B Aki (Connacht), A Byrne, J Carbery (both Leinster), A Conway, K Earls, C Farrell (all Munster), R Henshaw, D Kearney, R Kearney (all Leinster), I Keatley (Munster), K Marmion (Connacht), S McCloskey (Ulster), L McGrath (Leinster), C Murray (Munster), J Sexton (Leinster), J Stockdale (Ulster), D Sweetnam (Munster).

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