Joe Schmidt to delay Ireland captain call
JOE SCHMIDT is unlikely to announce a captain for the November internationals until the squad assembles for those games.
The Ireland coach has indicated that he has a number of candidates in mind. These include Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell and Jamie Heaslip. It is probable he will select from that trio, but is not expected to do so at next week's training camp.
Schmidt yesterday announced a 42-strong squad for a camp in Carton House on Sunday and Monday. He included a number of surprises, while also omitting a few players who would have expected to be included, not least Lions player No 806 Tom Court.
This is a preliminary squad as Schmidt begins preparations for the November internationals, but it is hard to see a way back for Court with Cian Healy, Dave Kilcoyne and now Leinster's Jack McGrath rated ahead of him in the Irish loosehead pecking-order.
To be fair, Court's selection as a replacement Lion in Australia in the summer was on the basis of convenience. He was on holiday with his family in his native Brisbane when the Lions needed cover. He was a 55th-minute replacement in the game against the Melbourne Rebels.
McGrath has been impressive for Leinster in their two Pro12 games this season. He started both matches, scoring a try in the draw with Ospreys last weekend.
It is a surprise he hasn't been joined in the squad by his Leinster team-mate Jordi Murphy. The back-row has been the Blues' stand-out performer this season and is surely an Ireland international in the making.
The competition for the back-row is immense though. Along with established squad regulars like Heaslip, Peter O'Mahony, Chris Henry and Kevin McLaughlin, there is a recall for Leinster's Shane Jennings, who has high hopes of adding to his 13 caps.
Schmidt has also included Munster's James Coughlan. The 32-year-old has been knocking on the international door for some time and was a regular in Declan Kidney's training squads. He captained the Irish Wolfhounds last season, but has yet to win a full cap.
A surprise inclusion is veteran second-row Donncha O'Callaghan. It was suggested that O'Callaghan's international career was over – after 94 caps – when he was omitted from the squad for last season's Six Nations finale against Italy.
Schmidt acknowledged that selecting the squad was not a straightforward exercise as he cut the number down from the 52 players he called in for camp in August.
"Selection was difficult as it's the first time we have had to narrow our focus a bit and determine a cut-off point for players," he said.
"A number of selections were very tight, which is positive. The group is predominantly 'tried and proven' but with some newer faces as well.
"It's an opportunity to get to know the players as well as an opportunity to have a look ahead and start to get a little bit of organisation done for the Guinness Series."
There are a number of players – such as Tommy O'Donnell, Michael Bent, Stuart Olding, Andrew Trimble, Craig Gilroy and Felix Jones – who were not considered due to injury, but Schmidt did leave open the possibility of tweaking the squad for future training camps.
It is somewhat surprising that Munster's Ian Keatley has not been included. The out-half had a strong summer tour with the Emerging Ireland side and his form for Munster this season has been more impressive than Paddy Jackson's with Ulster. Jackson, Sexton and Ian Madigan are the three No 10s named.
Paul O'Connell makes a welcome return to the squad after a nasty run of injuries. He last wore Ireland's green uniform in the drawn game against France in the 2012 Six Nations. He played in the opening Lions Test this summer before a broken arm ended his involvement.
Ireland Training Squad – Stephen Archer (Munster), Rory Best (Ulster), Isaac Boss (Leinster), Tommy Bowe (Ulster), James Coughlan (Munster), Sean Cronin (Leinster), Gordon D'Arcy (Leinster), Keith Earls (Munster), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster), Declan Fitzpatrick (Ulster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Chris Henry (Ulster), Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Paddy Jackson (Ulster), Shane Jennings (Leinster), Rob Kearney (Leinster), Dave Kearney (Leinster), David Kilcoyne (Munster), Ian Madigan (Leinster), Luke Marshall (Ulster), Mike McCarthy (Leinster), Fergus McFadden (Leinster), Jack McGrath (Leinster), Kevin McLaughlin (Leinster), Niall Morris (Leicester Tigers), Conor Murray (Munster), Sean O'Brien (Leinster), Donncha O'Callaghan (Munster), Paul O'Connell (Munster), Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster), Peter O'Mahony (Munster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Donnacha Ryan (Munster), Jonathan Sexton (Racing Metro 92), Mike Sherry (Munster), Richardt Strauss (Leinster), Devin Toner (Leinster), Dan Tuohy (Ulster), Simon Zebo (Munster).