Rugby Gerry Thornley: Farrell’s Six Nations squad hints at more fluid selection policy

Rugby These constituents are elegant.

With the dawn of a new era under Andy Farrell, so the winds of change have swept through the Ireland squad for the 2020 Six Nations. It’s a similar story with other countries, but even so the absence of a dozen of the 33 players who featured in Japan and the inclusion of 14 who did not represents quite a significant overhaul.

After all, there have only been three injuries and one retirement, that of Rory Best, and in his stead, as expected, Johnny Sexton has been appointed captain. Having assumed that role for Leinster last season, it’s a fair reward for the 34-year-old.

He’ll relish the role, after leading his country for the first time in the World Cup pool win over Russia.

“I saw exactly what it meant to him,” said Farrell of that week. “He’s like a spring chicken, he’s unbelievably chuffed with being named the captain and he’s going to have some great people behind him, some great support. I look forward to working with Johnny closely now as head coach and captain. I’m sure that relationship is going to be great and we’ll push the team forward together.”

James Ryan’s time will come, besides which he can assume more of a role in calling lineouts in the interim.

Sexton’s appointment adds to the feeling he’ll be fit to take part in the week-long preparatory camp in Portugal from next Wednesday, and for the opening game at home Scotland on Saturday fortnight.

With Joey Carbery injured and the thrice-capped Ross Byrne and uncapped Billy Burns the other outhalves in the squad, it also suggests his presence in the team may be under less pressure than the other leading candidate for the role, Peter O’Mahony, who has led Ireland to nine wins in his nine games as captain.

That said, O’Mahony’s most established rival for the number six jersey Rhys Ruddock, who has captained Ireland to seven wins out of seven, is arguably the most surprising exclusion.

Aside from Best, Carbery and Ruddock, the others to miss out from the 33 who ultimately played in the World Cup are the injured Tadhg Beirne and Jack Conan, and Niall Scannell, Seán Cronin, John Ryan, Jean Kleyn, Jordi Murphy (who was a late call-up to Japan), Jack Carty and Rob Kearney.

It’s a tremendous group. It’s full of everything really

The winds of change are more apparent up front. For example, where it’s a case of as you were in midfield – with the same quartet chosen – it’s a new trio at hooker if one includes Rob Herring, who was the other late World Cup call-up. The uncapped Rónan Kelleher and Connacht’s Dave Heffernan have been chosen, and so at least one will feature against the Scots.

Jack McGrath is back, and the uncapped Ulster tighthead Tom O’Toole is surprisingly chosen ahead of Marty Moore. The return of Devin Toner and Ultan Dillane will be popularly received, and as with McGrath, Jack O’Donoghue’s form has been rewarded with a call-up despite not being in the December “mid-season stocktake”.

Meet this unbelievable component!!

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