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Friday 24 January 2020

Interpro offers chance to impress Farrell for two men on a mission

Max Deegan
Max Deegan

The reveal of Andy Farrell's first Ireland 'stocktake' shines a brighter light on the Leinster-Ulster interprovincial at The RDS tomorrow (KO 7.35, eirSport) than might otherwise have been the case.

Leinster's Jamison Gibson-Park, Ronan Kelleher, Caelan Doris, Will Connors and Max Deegan are joined by Connacht's Caolin Blade and Ulster's Billy Burns and Tom O'Toole as the uncapped among the extended 45-man squad.

The commitment to reward form comes as a shot in the arm to those who have been trying to crack the international rotation.

In terms of tomorrow, Deegan and O'Toole have risen from forwards of potential to men who have to dominate, especially given the rationed resources being used by Leo Cullen and Dan McFarland.

They are two men on a mission, all with one considered selection by Ireland's new coach.

MAX DEEGAN

Age: 23

Leinster Caps: 56

Coach Cullen turns to just five of the 19 Leinster contributions to Ireland's squad to start, with Cian Healy and Josh van der Flier on the bench.

When Deegan was named U20 World Player of the Year in 2016, the number eight was listed with James Ryan, Andrew Porter and Jacob Stockdale as almost certain to make the highest grade.

Ryan has been mentioned in dispatches as a possible Ireland captain, Porter is putting it up to Tadhg Furlong and Stockdale is simply proven.

In the meantime, even at Leinster, Jamie Heaslip has been forced into retirement, Jack Conan has been very good when fit and Doris has jumped ahead of Deegan, based on Cullen's Champions Cup selections.

The athletic, rangy loose forward is into his fourth year as a professional, making his debut in Blue back in March 2017. This will be his 17th start in at his natural number eight, just his fourth of the season.

The ability to cover across the three positions is a good enough reason to skirt the squad, not to nail down a starting spot in the long-term.

Deegan has a very different skills set to Conan and Doris and this is a chance to show Farrell it might just suit his new regime better.

TOM O'TOOLE

Age: 21

Ulster Caps: 34

Coach McFarland has called on just one of his nine internationals for this Interprovincial in prop forward O'Toole.

The tight-head has bounced around from being born in Drogheda, growing up in Australia and returning for school at Campbell College, Belfast.

The impressive physical dimensions of 6'1" and reduced weight, down from 120kilos to 113kilos, have convinced ex-prop McFarland that O'Toole has the physical make-up to learn on the job, so to speak.

Last season, he was on the receiving end of chastening treatment from more seasoned loose-heads and hookers, raising question marks over his set-piece solidity.

However, Farrell and scrum coach John Fogarty have obviously been taken with the way O'Toole handled his role against Clermont-Auvergne's France loose-head and Harlequins' veteran Joe Marler in recent Champions Cup clashes.

It would count as a regressive step were O'Toole unable to pin down Leinster's third-choice loose-head Peter Dooley, undoing so much of the fine work that has led to his promotion.

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