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Mick Galwey: Fringe players can put hand up for Ireland selection as Munster clash with Ulster

It’s the last chance to impress boss Andy Farrell

Gavin Coombes of Munster and Scott Penny of Leinster will be looking to impress Ireland boss Andy Farrell. Photo: Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Scott Penny of Leinster scores a try. Photo: Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Mick GalweySunday World

It’s the first day of the year, but it is also the last chance for Irish rugby players to get the better of one of theirrivalsbefore Andy Farrell picks his squad for the first two matches of the 2023 Six Nations.

Ulster host Munster at Ravehill this evening, (5.15pm), followed by Leinster playing Connacht at the RDS (7.35pm).

If you don’t take today’s chance to shine, then you have no complaints.

Yes, there are European games to come after these interpros, where Farrell will also be watching closely, but these are head-to-heads, your chance to do an opponent down.

Farrell knows about 24 of his Six Nations gang for sure – they only have to be fit to get the call.

But there are injuries, such as the wrist problem keeping Robbie Henshaw out of Leinster’s teams right now.

So between those injuries and positions where Farrell has not made his mind up about personnel, there are still about ten places where a call has to be made.

In some of those places, the matches today provide a head-to-head. In others, they don’t.

I’m thinking of Max Deegan and Gavin Coombes, two cracking No 8s for Leinster and Munster respectively.

But they played against each other on St Stephen’s Day, now they need to back those efforts up.

Deegan is a great young player, whose progress with Ireland has been hampered by injuries.

Scott Penny of Leinster scores a try. Photo: Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Coombes was ahead of him in the international ranks, but fell back when he was part of the Irish ‘A’ team hammered by the Maori in November.

The Munster man had a big response in Europe, and again on Monday, when he was one of the province’s standouts against Leinster.

Now he has to back it up again – and put pressure on Farrell to give him another chance.

Coombes is a seriously powerful unit, who, when given the ball two metres from the try-line, is likely to crash over and score.

But another lad who is good at that trick is Leinster flanker Scott Penny.

We saw him convert a training-ground move to score a close-in try for Leinster against Munster.

Of course, the World Player of the Year, Josh van der Flier, is in Penny’s way at his province, yet he still has to be close to an Irish call-up.

As must be Jack Crowley, who has played well for Munster at out-half, centre and full-back in recent weeks. That’s the sort of versatility that an international coach loves.

It was interesting to read last week that Scotland are trying to get Ben Healy to declare for them, as he is qualified to play for them via a grandparent.

Healy now seems to be Munster’s No 3 out-half, behind Joey Carbery and Crowley.

That is surely where we are at down south, with Crowley chosen to start at out-half this evening.

It has to be tempting for Healy to make the switch, given that, for all his excellence against the Springboks XV back in November, he is No 3 with his province – and God knows where he is in the national rankings with Ross Byrne, Harry Byrne, Billy Burns and Jack Carty all playing for the other provinces.

But things can change so quickly and when Johnny Sexton finally retires, every player will get his chance to fill those massive boots.Healy has as much chance of being the man as anyone.

Given the injury to Henshaw would Leinster’s James Osborne be ‘a bolter’ at centre for the Irish team. I like this guy, he looks better every time I see him.

He has to be seriously close to getting the nod.

The issue for both Penny and Osborne is that they are both only subs for Leinster today, such is that province’s depth of talent on call.

These will be all huge calls for Farrell to make, but then he now has the depth of player personnel that has been denied to almost every Irish coach before him.

Finally, can I just thank everyone involved with the Moss Keane Currow Golf Classic at Killarney GC last Thursday. It’s a wonderful Christmas tradition, but to play in it you must have been born in Currow, or live in Currow. Start trying to buy a house now so that you can play in December 2023.


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