Andy Farrell recently announced his squad for the November internationals, which will see Ireland take on Japan, New Zealand, and Argentina. Three months out from the six nations and two years from the world cup, this will be a crucial time to develop the squad.
Japan are improving every year with their open, attractive rugby, with the 2019 world cup win over Ireland a timely reminder of what they can do. While Argentina will look to bounce back from a disappointing Rugby Championship campaign.
All eyes will be on the clash against New Zealand. While they arguably are not the force they once were, they are still the No.1 team in the world. In their first clash since the 2019 World Cup, Ireland will want to prove they can compete against the best in the world under Farrell.
Farrell’s squad included some interesting selections, with Leinster duo Ciaran Frawley and Dan Sheehan receiving their first call ups, while Simon Zebo is back in the Irish squad for the first time in almost five years.
Despite the excitement of the squad, there is still a number of questions that remain. As Ireland enter another block of games, the next flyhalf after Johnny Sexton remains unclear. Farrell included Sexton, Joey Carbery and Harry Byrne. Seen by many as the starting 10 for Ireland in the future, Carbery’s performances can be seen as somewhat underwhelming this season.
Likewise, Harry Byrne is also coming back from an injury. The 22-year-old has made fans and pundits take notice with his creativity in the last two seasons. However, after suffering a hip injury against Zerbe and ruled out of Leinster’s team against Glasgow, he is also in a race against fitness.
With Sexton also doubtful for the opening game, pressure is on Carbery to deliver from the start. Jack Carty can feel unlucky not to be included in the squad after his player of the match performance against Munster, and Carbery. This is a long-term problem that has proved costly in the past for Ireland and must be solved sooner rather than later.
This November will also show life after CJ Stander, following the back rows retirement in May. Ireland have been accused of struggling against the more physical sides, so it’s no surprise to see three ball carrying 8s included in Jack Conan, Calen Doris, and Gavin Coombes. Expect Conan to start 8, while Doris is capable at playing at 6, something Leinster have done on a number of occasions.
While much of the talk has been about young talents in Craig Casey and Ryan Baird, the return of Simon Zebo has added a real excitement that was missing from the Irish squad. Left out in the cold while playing for Racing Metro, his return to Munster has reopened his Irish career.
While nobody in the back three has the flair of Zebo, all three positions are highly competitive. Hugo Keenan has not put a foot wrong in his time at full back and will likely continue to play there. Jordan Larmour has started the season well and like Zebo, can cover all three positions, while James Lowe is always a danger to any team, despite his defensive difficulties.
Meanwhile, Connacht are represented by the trio of Bundee Aki, Ultan Dillane and Finaly Belham. Aki will likely start at twelve with Ringrose, with former Connacht player Robbie Henshaw ruled out with injury. Aki’s physicality and energy was badly missing from majority of the six nations and will give the team a boost.
While Ultan Dillane will face huge competition to win a spot in the second row, with James Ryan, Tadhg Bernie, and Iain Henderson all competing with the Connacht man.