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Monday 18 February 2019

Byrne loses out to Carty in battle for Six Nations number 10 shirt

Blade and Farrell complete uncapped trio from out West

PASSED OVER: Leinster out-half Ross Byrne in action against Toulouse. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
PASSED OVER: Leinster out-half Ross Byrne in action against Toulouse. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Connacht's fine form has convinced Joe Schmidt that out-half Jack Carty, centre Tom Farrell and scrum-half Caolin Blade deserve places in the extended Ireland squad f or the opening two rounds of the Six Nations.

The three uncapped Connacht men may well have shared a moment out West yesterday.

The Andy Friend regime is kicking in, with the personal rewards to go with the collective ones.

The benefit to Carty has come at a cost to Ross Byrne, the man who led Leinster to a bonus-point win over Toluouse last Saturday.

Admittedly, the Connacht playmaker has put his goal-kicking woes from last season in his rear-view mirror.

In fact, he stands on 109 points from his twelve appearances in the PRO14, the second highest in the League.

He has already played 16 times for a whopping 1,051 minutes, finding the rhythm that is crucial to any out-half.

While it is dangerous to assign too much significance to any one match, Carty did have the better of his personal dual with Byrne in that pulsating inter-provincial at Christmas time.

It could just have been confirmation for Schmidt, not necessarily that Carty is better, but that he deserves a closer look, now that time is the enemy with a certain competition looming later in the year.

In addition, the Roscommon man has been able to steer Connacht home in big games, most recently against Ulster in the PRO14 and Sale in the Challenge Cup.

Byrne could be forgiven for comparing the Champions Cup to the Challenge and coming up with a different choice.

Connacht's Jack Carty. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Connacht's Jack Carty. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

The coach has a solid idea of how Byrne operates from last summer in Australia and from November when making his Ireland debut against Italy and playing 54 minutes against the United States.

It will be a case of sink or swim for Carty in what will be a relatively short window.

Ireland will leave for Portugal on Sunday in a move that mirrors that of last year's Six Nations camp in Spain.

This will be the furthest thing from a holiday, as Schmidt will pack as much as humanly possible into the out-of-country experience.

Ex-Castleknock College centre Farrell has been the stand-out figure in Connacht's resurgence this season.

His offloading skills are proven and the provincial partnership struck up with Bundee Aki is akin to that once enjoyed by Robbie Henshaw.

The promotion of Blade has come due to injuries to Kieran Marmion (ankle) and Luke McGrath (knee), as the next man up ahead of Ulster's David Shanahan.

It remains to be seen whether the 24-year-old can force Schmidt's hand any further than that.

This is unlikely, unless either Conor Murray or John Cooney come a cropper at some point over the next month.

Either way, it is an encouragement to others on the outside to witness the sudden jump possible.

There is even a return from the cold for Ultan Dillane, not long ago declared as Ireland's next big thing.

Then, James Ryan happened to Irish rugby and everyone else has had to move back one in the queue.

The stocks in the second row are impressive, to say the least, an area of weakness transforming into one of strength as Tadhg Beirne continues to deliver big moments in big games.

The omission of Dan Leavy should not come as too great a surprise for, arguably, Ireland's best player in last season's Six Nations.

The flanker has been beset by injuries that have prevented any kind of consistency.

He just has to get back to action and do what he has already done.

The same goes for Sean O'Brien, the Carlow man making it back from a fractured forearm on reputation alone.

While O'Brien has been notoriously prone to injury in recent seasons, the loose forward is a formidable presence and an old hand at being dropped back in at the highest levels.

The 32-year-old is blessed with that special ingredient of leadership, something Schmidt is unwilling to let go.

Despite the fact O'Brien has struggled to make the pitch this season, losing the last two months, the medical advice must be preaching the virtue of patience.

Jonathan Sexton and Peter O'Mahony have been listed as the vice-captains in behind a rejuvenated Rory Best.

The Ireland hooker has turned back the hands of time in the last month, delivering at home and in Europe to tighten his grip on the armband.

IRELAND'S 38-man squad for the opening rounds of the SIX NATIONS

Forwards (21): R Best (Ulster, Capt), T Beirne (Munster), J Conan,S Cronin (both Leinster), U Dillane (Connacht), T Furlong, C Healy (both Leinster), I Henderson (Ulster), D Kilcoyne (Munster), J McGrath (Leinster), J Murphy (Ulster), S O'Brien (Leinster), P O'Mahony (Munster), A Porter, R Ruddock, J Ryan (all Leinster), J Ryan, N Scannell, CJ Stander (all Munster), D Toner, J van der Flier ( both Leinster);

Backs (17): W Addison (Ulster), B Aki, C Blade* (both Connacht), J Carbery (Munster), J Carty* (Connacht), A Conway (Munster), J Cooney (Ulster), K Earls, C Farrell (Munster), T Farrell* (Connacht), R Henshaw, R Kearney, J Larmour (all Leinster), C Murray (Munster), G Ringrose (Leinster), J Sexton (both Leinster), J Stockdale (Ulster).*Denote uncapped players.

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