Eight Ulster players have been called up to the Ireland squad ahead of the four-match Autumn International series that kicks off next Saturday against Italy in Chicago.
Will Addison is the only uncapped Ulsterman to be selected and his performances this season have certainly warranted the selection. John Cooney, Rob Herring and Stuart McCloskey join the usual suspects in Rory Best, Jacob Stockdale, Jordi Murphy and Iain Henderson.
Addison has the potential to be a real favourite in the Ireland camp especially as how similar a player he is to Jared Payne. I expect him to be a useful bench option for Ireland due to his versatility and playing full back and outside centre competently, however would be disappointed if we don’t see him start against Italy next week.
For the first time in my memory, Ireland have serious depth in the majority of positions, especially centre. It’ll be difficult for Stuart McCloskey to break ahead of Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose, Sam Arnold and Robbie Henshaw but the Bangor man is having a decent run of form recently. It’s more than likely that he will be available for Ulster barring a catastrophic injury spree.
With Conor Murray injured and seemingly ruled out for the whole series, this opportunity allows Joe Schmidt to assess his options at scrum half. Vying for competition with Kieran Marmion and Luke McGrath I’m unsure whether John Cooney will be the number one nine for the series, however, with a decent box kick and excellent trail running, he certainly fits the Schmidt build.
The series is all about preparation ahead of the World Cup next year but it is good to see Schmidt pick players that are in form. Darren Sweetnam, Sam Arnold, Niall Scannell and Ross Byrne have all been performing well for their respective provinces and have been awarded the opportunity to impress the Irish management at Carton House.
However Ireland will be targeting four wins from four in this series. Obviously New Zealand is the toughest opposition and this match will grab the headlines, however Argentina too provide stiff opposition especially since defeating Australia away for the first time in the Rugby Championship. I still expect them to be defeated however, they play a very attractive brand of rugby and Emiliano Boffelli possesses a lot of pace from full back.
Will Addison, Bundee Aki, Sam Arnold, Ross Byrne, Joey Carbery, Andrew Conway, John Cooney, Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw, Rob Kearney, Jordan Larmour, Kieran Marmion, Stuart McCloskey, Johnny Sexton, Jacob Stockdale, Darren Sweetnam.
Rory Best, Finlay Bealham, Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Iain Henderson, Rob Herring, Dave Kilcoyne, Dan Leavy, Jack McGrath, Jordi Murphy, Sean O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony, Andrew Porter, Quinn Roux, Rhys Ruddock, James Ryan, John Ryan, Niall Scannell, CJ Stander, Devin Toner, Josh van der Flier.