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At around 4pm on Wednesday afternoon there will be a significant landmark in the new era for Irish rugby with the announcement of the first squad under Andy Farrell’s watch for the opening games of the forthcoming Six Nations.
Numbering around the mid to high 30s, it will also be drawn largely, and possibly entirely, from the 45-man squad named for the ‘mid-season stocktake’ last month for a two-day get-together. Johnny Sexton is likely to be named as captain.
The eight uncapped players in that squad were never going to be retained en bloc for the opening exchanges in the Six Nations but around half that number could be included. This in turn is likely to reflect Leinster’s imperious form and conveyor belt of aspiring young Test players, with Ronan Kelleher, Caelan Doris, Max Deegan and, possibly, Will Connors, all strongly in consideration to be named.
Kelleher, who turns 22 next week, would have been a shoo-in on the strength of his early-season form, scoring seven tries in his 10 starts. He has been sidelined since Leinster’s third pool game away to Northampton at the start of January, and word is he’s unlikely to return this weekend against Benetton but he should be fit for the pre-tournament week-long camp in Portugal from next Wednesday onwards.
Hence, while his chances of making a starting debut against Scotland in the opening game in Dublin on February 1st have been reduced, Kelleher is liable to be one of three hookers named, along with Niall Scannell and Rob Herring. That said, Connacht’s Dave Heffernan has been having his best season to date.
Farrell and his re-jigged coaching ticket of Simon Easterby, Mike Catt, John Fogarty and Richie Murphy have been in conclave on and off over the last couple of days, and there were a number of other injury concerns which have delayed finalising the squad until Wednesday.
One of those is Marty Moore, who hobbled out of Ulster’s defeat in Clermont with an ankle injury, but he is expected to be fit for Ulster’s final pool game at home to Bath on S
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