Joe Schmidt's new and not so new contenders

The Squad

Forwards (19):

Rory Best (Ulster) captain; Sean Cronin (Leinster), James Cronin (Munster), Ultan Dillane (Connacht)*, Tadhg Furlong (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster) vice captain, Rob Herring (Ulster), Mike McCarthy (Leinster), Jack McGrath (Leinster), Martin Moore (Leinster), Sean O’Brien (Leinster), Tommy O’Donnell (Munster), Rhys Ruddock (Leinster), Donnacha Ryan (Munster), C J Stander (Munster)*, Richardt Strauss (Leinster), Devin Toner (Leinster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster)*, Nathan White (Connacht).

Backs (16):

Keith Earls (Munster), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster), Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Paddy Jackson (Ulster), David Kearney (Leinster), Rob Kearney (Leinster), Ian Madigan (Leinster), Kieran Marmion (Connacht), Luke Marshall (Ulster), Stuart McCloskey (Ulster)*, Conor Murray (Munster), Jared Payne (Ulster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Jonathan Sexton (Leinster), Andrew Trimble (Ulster), Simon Zebo (Munster).

Expected back from injury after Rounds 1 & 2:

Cian Healy, Chris Henry, Mike Ross.

Long-term injured:

Tommy Bowe, Iain Henderson, Peter O’Mahony, Dan Tuohy.

(*denotes uncapped player)

Ready for action – the new boys

Ultan Dillane –

22-year-old Connacht lock and Kerry native, a 6ft 6ins player of the month for his province, in part thanks to a fantastic try-saving tackle against Brive last weekend.

Josh van der Flier –

also 22, a rookie senior pro but a regular in the Leinster back row with nine starts this season and four European appearances including a try on his Champions Cup debut off the bench at Bath.

Stuart McCloskey –

aged 23 and enjoying a standout season in Ulster’s midfield, getting his side over the gainline with pace and power. Also a handy place-kicker.

CJ Stander –

newly qualified through residency, the dynamic back rower has led Munster admirably in Peter O’Mahony’s absence.

Welcome back

Kieran Marmion

– Connacht scrum-half failed to make the World Cup squad final cut after facing Wales last August for his fourth cap.

Luke Marshall

– Last of the Ulster centre’s six caps came on Argentina tour in 2014. Back after last season disrupted by injuries and a five-week suspension.

Tommy O’Donnell

– Munster openside flanker forced out of the World Cup after a shoulder dislocation during the first warm-up Test against Wales last August.

Jared Payne

– limped out of the World Cup pool game at Wembley with a foot injury but returned for Ulster last weekend.

Andrew Trimble

– in-form winger and 2014 RBS 6 Nations player of the championship back in business after missing last season with a toe injury.

Points to prove

Jamie Heaslip

– overtaken by Rory Best in the race for the captaincy, the Leinster No. 8 remains vice captain and continues to be a vital cog in Joe Schmidt’s back row.

All the surviving WC squad members

– after a deeply disappointing World Cup exit at the hands of Argentina in the quarter- finals, Ireland’s frontline players will be looking to atone with a successful Six Nations title defence.


Isaac Boss

– Leinster scrum-half was a late World Cup call-up as injury cover for Jared Payne but now injured (hamstring) and overlooked in favour of Marmion.

Darren Cave

– surplus to requirements in midfield having been upstaged by Ulster team-mates Marshall and McCloskey.

Jordi Murphy

– struggling for form in Leinster’s back row after a less than enjoyable World Cup quarter-final against Argentina.

Paul O’Connell

– Toulon-bound former captain now retired from Test rugby after serious hamstring injury in WC pool win over France last October.

His time will come

Garry Ringrose

– the exciting Leinster centre has captured the imagination with his pace and skills and a Test call-up is just a matter of when rather than if.


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