Predicting Changes To The Irish Squad And The First Choice 23 Ahead Of The Six Nations

By Colman Stanley

Andy Farrell is due to name his Irish squad for the 2023 Six Nations on Thursday, with his side heading into the competition as early tournament favourites.

Barring injuries enforced changes, there is not expected to be too much reshuffling, particularly with the World Cup so close.

However, there are a selection of in-form players who will hope to have jumped up the pecking order since the Autumn Nations Series, to the detriment of a few unlucky men who will miss out on the squad.

READ HERE: The Key Change In Munster Training Which Has Helped Them Gain Ground On Leinster And Ulster

Above is a picture of the 37-man squad from November Series, the same number as the squad for the 2022 Six Nations (excluding Cian Prendergast who was included as a development player).

The Six Nations selection featured 17 backs and 20 forwards, while the Autumn group consisted of 16 backs and 21 forwards.

For our 2023 squad prediction we are going to go with the distribution of the latter, with the only change being an extra centre and one less outside back.

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Injured Players

Robbie Henshaw is expected to be out for at least the first couple of games, while it does not look likely that Ciarán Frawley will feature at all in the tournament.

Robert Baloucoune was ruled out of Ulster's trip to La Rochelle with another hamstring injury. It is not yet clear whether he will be ruled out of the Six Nations, but for the purpose of this article we will leave him out.

There is also a question mark over the fitness of the ever improving Jeremy Loughman. Should he miss out on the squad, his teammate Dave Kilcoyne will most likely come in in his place.

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Players In

Ross Byrne:

It looks like a straight shootout between Ross Byrne and Jack Crowley for that third out-half spot.

Byrne's form has gone up a level this season, and given that Crowley has only started one game at 10 since November, this continuity at outhalf may give Byrne the edge in Farrell's mind.

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The battle behind Sexton remains fascinating, with the Crowley vs Byrne narrative taking centre stage in November. While Crowley showed impressive maturity with an astute debut start against Australia, Byrne's cameo off the bench gave a reminder why he is considered by many to be the most clutch goal-kicker on the island.

Roll on the Six Nations and the inevitable twists and turns it will bring to the saga of the backup flyhalves.

19 November 2022; Irish Rugby : Ross Byrne of Ireland celebrates after kicking a penalty during the Bank of Ireland Nations Series match between Ireland and Australia at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Mike Haley:

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This is the most speculative selection in the article.

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Haley has been one of Munster's outstanding players for over two seasons and the most reliable Irish 15 after Hugo Keenan.

With this in mind, why would Farrell suddenly bring Haley in from the cold so close to a World Cup, as the evidence suggests that e does not fancy him? Also, given that he only covers 15, would there be space for him in a World Cup squad?

To answer the first question; Mike Lowry is the man whose squad place Haley will be looking to take. The Ulsterman has not built on his outstanding form of last season and has failed to impress in recent opportunities against the Maori All Blacks, thus leaving the door open for Haley.

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It is true that Haley lacks versatility, but in such an exposed and crucial position, Farrell would be wise to consider picking an expert at fullback rather than a jack-of-all-trades, should an injury befall Hugo Keenan.

You can also check out our extremely early World Cup squad prediction, where we managed to find a place for the Munsterman.

10 August 2019; Irish Rugby : Mike Haley of Ireland in action against Renato Giammarioli of Italy during the Guinness Summer Series 2019 match between Ireland and Italy at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

READ HERE: Conor Murray Getting Dropped From Munster Could Have Big Implications For Ireland

Jamie Osborne:

Certain fans on social media may lead you to believe that the clamour for Jamie Osborne's inclusion is but a Leinster driven media campaign.

This conveniently ignores the fact that he is excellent rugby player, and that Leinster win a lot of matches because they have a lot of excellent rugby players.

Osborne was also one of the only men to come out with his reputation enhanced, after the hammering dished out to Ireland 'A' in November by the Maori All Blacks.

His versatility will also help his cause, having started in four different positions for Leinster this season.

We also took a look recently at players who could make their Ireland debuts ahead of the World Cup. The centre we chose was Antoine Frisch - who is still a dark horse to make the Six Nations squad - but looking back, the non-inclusion of Osborne was a serious oversight.

Bundee Aki/Iain Henderson/James Lowe/Jordan Larmour/Rónán Kelleher:

Not much needs to be said about these men. They were injured in November and should all be selected on Thursday, with Joe McCarthy, Calvin Nash, Jacob Stockdale, Dave Heffernan making way.

Ireland 23 To Face Wales on February 4

  1. Andrew Porter
  2. Dan Sheehan
  3. Tadhg Furlong
  4. Tadhg Beirne
  5. James Ryan
  6. Peter O'Mahony
  7. Josh van der Flier
  8. Caelan Doris
  9. Jamison Gibson Park
  10. Johnny Sexton
  11. James Lowe
  12. Bundee Aki
  13. Garry Ringrose
  14. Mack Hansen
  15. Hugo Keenan

Replacements: Cian Healy, Rónán Kelleher, Iain Henderson, Gavin Coombes, Conor Murray, Joey Carbery, Stuart McCloskey.

SEE ALSO: Austin Healey Was Absolutely Incensed With Irish Refs During Racing-Quins Game

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