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Irish Rugby Depth Chart Six Nations Edition
Joe Schmidt announces his Ireland squad for the Six Nations and the Wolfhounds game this Thursday. With that in mind, a lot has changed in the time since the last Irish Rugby Depth Chart.
Who will be charged with the task of defending Ireland's crown?
Note: The graphic highlights the 31 RWC squad. The Article highlights the Six Nations squad. They are different
1. Cian Healy - Starting
2. Jack McGrath - Bench
3. James Cronin - Six Nations Squad
4. Denis Buckley - Wolfhounds
5. Callum Black
Injured: Dave Kilcoyne
The order of the looseheads is set in stone, especially when you take into account Dave Kilcoyne's unavailability. What isn't clear though, is whether Cian Healy will be risked in the Wolfhounds game in order to get match fit for the Six Nations.
If he is, either James Cronin will be the other loosehead in the squad, or he might be saved allowing Denis Buckley a deserved call up for his great season.
If not, Cronin will most likely start for the Wolfhounds, and Buckley will get a bench spot.
1. Rory Best - Starting
2. Sean Cronin - Bench
3. Richardt Strauss - Six Nations Squad
4. Duncan Casey - Wolfhounds
The most set in stone order in the squad. Four hookers will be needed, there are exactly four hookers available. Casey did his chances no favours with a below-par display against Saracens, but his brilliant season up to that point means he deserves at least a Wolfhounds bench spot.
1. Mike Ross - Starting
2. Martin Moore - Bench
3. Nathan White - Six Nations Squad
4. Tadhg Furlong - Wolfhounds
5. Rodney Ah You - Wolfhounds
6. Declan Fitzpatrick
7. Stephen Archer
If this was based solely on last week then Ah You, Archer and Fitzpatrick are automatically discounted for being absolutely mullered in the scrum. Neither Nathan White or Mike Ross played, and one suspects that may not have a material effect on things. The order between 1 and 2 is close, and it looks like White is 3rd choice based on the kind words that Schmidt bestowed on him in November.
Furlong's form and Ah You's incumbency in the squad mean it's a close pick between the two. Probably only one gets picked, but both might end up in an enlarged squad.
Second Row (4)
1. Devin Toner - Starting
2. Dave Foley - Bench
3. Donncha O'Callaghan
Injured: Iain Henderson, Donnacha Ryan
Donncha O'Callaghan isn't getting gametime, and is probably behind the likes of Dave O'Callaghan and Billy Holland now in Munster. Neither of those are ready for international level, leaving just Toner and Foley. Toner was majestic against Castres, and is Schmidt's clear first choice.
Second Row (5)
1. Paul O'Connell - Starting
2. Mike McCarthy - Six Nations Squad
3. Mick Kearney - Wolfhounds
Injured: Dan Tuohy
Paul O'Connell's form is concerning and must be watched. However, he's still the best lock in Ireland, and vital to Ireland's cause. Mike McCarthy benefits from Tuohy's injury, and Kearney looks like he'll be back from injury in time to get his reward for good form this season with a Wolfhounds appearance.
He should benefit from exposure to Schmidt's methods in training.
1. Peter O'Mahony - Starting
2. Robbie Diack - Six Nations Squad
3. Dominic Ryan - Wolfhounds
4. Roger Wilson - Wolfhounds
5. Jack Conan - Wolfhounds
Injured: Rhys Ruddock, Iain Henderson, Kevin McLaughlin
This spot was hard. Ruddock and Henderson are clear 2nd and 3rd choices. Diack is a regular in Schmidt's squad so he gets the nod, but it's not hard to envisage all of Ryan, Wilson and Conan getting a call up. One may miss out, but it's too hard to guess who.
1. Sean O'Brien - Starting
2. Tommy O'Donnell - Six Nations Squad
3. Jordi Murphy - Six Nations Squad
4. Dominic Ryan - Wolfhounds
5. Sean Dougall
Injured: Rhys Ruddock, Chris Henry
I'm not 100% sure that O'Brien will be ready for the start of the Six Nations, leaving an intriguing battle between O'Donnell and Murphy for the starting openside spot. One or the other could be used in the Wolfhounds to decide, otherwise Dominic Ryan is in the wings to make an appearance.
1. Jamie Heaslip - Starting
2. Peter O'Mahony - Starting
3. Jordi Murphy - Six Nations Squad
4. Roger Wilson - Wolfhounds
5. Jack Conan - Wolfhounds
Injured: Robin Copeland
With Copeland out injured, the sixes and eights in the squad will be interesting. Youngster Jack Conan has shown promise, but Diack and Wilson are favourites. Heaslip remains the unbreakable man, despite his shoulder issues.
1. Conor Murray - Starting
2. Eoin Reddan - Bench
3. Kieran Marmion - Six Nations Squad
4. Luke McGrath - Wolfhounds
5. Paul Marshall
Conor Murray's neck issue will be one to watch, but he will definitely be included. If he misses out, Reddan will play against Italy with Marmion on the bench. There's a big tussle between those two for the bench spot. The loser will probably start against the Wolfhounds, probably even if Murray's neck is bad.
This leaves one spot for the Wolfhounds bench between Ulster's sub 9 and Leinster's up and comer Luke McGrath. I'm picking McGrath here due to his immense potential, but it could well be Paul Marshall that Schmidt fancies.
1. Johnny Sexton - Starting
2. Ian Madigan - Bench
3. Ian Keatley - Six Nations Squad
4. JJ Hanrahan - Wolfhounds
5. Jack Carty - Wolfhounds
6. Ian Humphries
Injured: Paddy Jackson
Sexton's head won't be right for Italy. We know that much. Given Jackson's injury and Munster's collapse last weekend, Madigan remains in charge of the understudy role. Keatley will now definitely be the sub in Rome.
What is yet to be determined is the Wolfhounds spot. Will Keatley be risked? Will JJ be locked into playing for Ireland before he leaves for England? Was Jack Carty's performance v Exeter good enough in front of a watching Joe Schmidt to leave Keatley on the bench for Ireland v Italy and not have to worry about the Wolfhounds. We'll see when the squad is announced on Thursday, but I think that Carty could benefit from the confidence of being called up nationally. Connacht would be the main beneficiaries there.
1. Andrew Trimble - Starting
2. Luke Fitzgerald - Bench
3. Simon Zebo - Six Nations Squad / Wolfhounds
4. Craig Gilroy - Wolfhounds
5. Matt Healy
Trimble's injury means that he'll be back mid way through the Six Nations. His performances in 2014, especially for Ireland, mean that he's still worthy of a spot in the squad. Luke Fitzgerald has been the catalyst for Leinster's improvement on his return, while Simon Zebo faces a game with the Wolfhounds where he might be joined by Craig Gilroy.
Matt Healy's outstanding game against Exeter will have given Schmidt some food for thought, but there remains too many players ahead of him in the queue.
1. Gordon D'Arcy - Starting
2. Robbie Henshaw - Starting
3. Ian Madigan - Bench
4. Fergus McFadden - Six Nations
5. Noel Reid - Wolfhounds
Injured: Stuart McCloskey, Luke Marshall, Dave McSharry, Stuart Olding
Luke Marshall's unfortunate concussion means that I'm erring on the side of caution with him given his history. Olding also picked up a knock against Toulon, and is out for 12 weeks. With Sexton out injured for Italy, while Henshaw still relatively inexperienced, Schmidt will want the experience of D'Arcy at 12 to guide the two youngsters.
McFadden's versatility and style gets him in the squad, and there may be a spot for Reid in the Wolfhounds with the rest of the 12s ahead of him either versatile or injured. We wait and see.
1. Robbie Henshaw - Starting
2. Luke Fitzgerald - Bench/Wolfhounds
3. Jared Payne - Six Nations Squad
4. Fergus McFadden - Six Nations Squad
5. Darren Cave
I think it's almost certain that Henshaw is the first choice outside centre given his form. The injury picked up against Exeter shouldn't keep him out for the start of the Six Nations given his ability to last the rest of the 75 minutes in the game. He's likely being rested on precaution and will have 2 weekends rest before the Italy game.
Darren Cave misses out due to the apparent abundance of options, and I foresee any of Payne, McFadden or Fitzgerald donning the 13 jersey for the Wolfhounds.
1. Tommy Bowe - Starting
2. Andrew Trimble - Starting
3. Fergus McFadden - Six Nations Squad
4. Dave Kearney - Wolfhounds
5. Andrew Conway - Wolfhounds
6. Darragh Leader
Tommy Bowe is probably the only winger assured of his spot for Schmidt, with Trimble close to that. McFadden and Kearney are players that Schmidt likes, with McFadden's extra versatility covering both centre spots better Kearney's back three versatility. Conway and Kearney are in line for Wolfhound games, but unlikely to go further.
1. Rob Kearney - Starting
2. Jared Payne - Six Nations Squad
3. Felix Jones - Wolfhounds
4. Darragh Leader
I don't think Rob Kearney is in danger of losing his place, even if most of the island think that Jared Payne's best position is fullback. He might get a run out there in green in the next two months, but I think its' unlikely. Felix Jones was a beneficiary of the huge amount of injuries in the wing spots last November, and might have done enough to remain. But I think both Kearney and Payne are better than him, so he'll have to rely on impressing for the Wolfhounds.