Andy Farrell’s first squad was not one named for shock value, though the omissions are as notable as the new additions.
It’s worth noting that there are more Ulster players in the wider squad than from Munster, while Connacht’s representation has shrunk to three.
The retired Rory Best aside, there’s a handful of players who were in Japan that did not make the cut, and five in total who have yet to be capped at senior level.
Leinster trio Max Deegan, Caelan Doris, and Rónan Kelleher are obvious winners, while Billy Burns and Tom O’Toole are perhaps surprising choices from the in-form northern province.
There’s a big shake up at out-half – where Burns and Ross Byrne come in, after both missed out on the World Cup, while Seán Cronin, James Tracy, and Niall Scannell all miss out at hooker, with Dave Heffernan and Kelleher joining Rob Herring in the battle to replace Best.
Jack McGrath and Devin Toner return, with Jean Kleyn left out, while there’s no place for the likes of Rhys Ruddock or Jordi Murphy, and Connacht half-back duo Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty miss out entirely.
WINNERS: Heffernan, Kearney, Addison.
Heffernan made his debut in 2017 when the likes of James Ryan and Andrew Porter were given their chance in the US and Japan, but by his own admission things didn’t go to plan.
The former backrow-cum-hooker, an unusual combo, failed to impress, but he has made a mark on Farrell — who was in New Zealand with the Lions in ’17, the benefit of a clean slate.
“It was a big surprise to be honest. I didn’t really see that one coming,” he said in December, when called into the ‘stocktake’. “I had to check my emails just to make sure there was something there and my friends weren’t taking the piss.”
Dave Kearney has been around the block, and a few times more. His brother is the star name — but Dave’s proven his power of persistence. A solid, if unspectacular, presence with Leinster when called upon, he had Schmidt’s support when fit, but that was often a problem. A huge reward for one of the good guys in the game.
Addison was talked up before the World Cup as a potential ‘bolter’ after impressing with Ulster and in his brief Test introduction. But injury bit and he could not do enough to make the plane. Now he’s back and available, it’s fair to say Farrell is keen to see what he can do in green.
LOSERS: Cronin, Kearney, Kleyn
It’s hard to know what Cronin has done to deserve such an Ireland career. A significant number of caps, but so few starts — it’s not all down to Rory Best being ahead of him. A star for his province, things just don’t work out in green — and this feels like a final nail in the coffin as Farrell looks to youth.
Rob Kearney was told his Test career was not over when omitted from the December get together, but this feels fatal. Larmour is moving ahead at club level, Conway and Addison and others will look to the No 15 shirt too, and you wonder if this is farewell to the most decorated player around.
Kleyn was a shock inclusion for Japan, magnified due to Toner’s absence, and in truth he barely made an impact out East. Farrell’s decision to recall Toner shows he may not have agreed with Schmidt’s call last summer.