The slew of exciting newcomers mean Ireland’s senior heads will need to prove themselves once more ahead of the Guinness 2020 Six Nations, according to Leinster coach Stuart Lancaster.
New Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has decided to host a 24-hour mid-season ‘stocktake’ at the IRFU’s High Performance Centre in Dublin later this month – selecting a squad of 45 players.
The headlines were grabbed by the likes of stalwarts Rob Kearney, Jordi Murphy and Sean Cronin missing out, while plenty of new faces have made the cut a little over a month before Farrell names his first squad for the 2020 Championship.
The likes of Ulster pair Billy Burns and Tom O’Toole and Leinster quartet Will Connors, Caelan Doris, Max Deegan and Ronan Kelleher are among the uncapped names to be given the nod.
And Lancaster – who had Farrell working underneath him during his time in charge of England – believes the new blood will keep the more established names on their toes.
“If you brought it back to how Andy will be thinking, I would’ve thought if I was in his position, he has got to build a team that wins in the here and now in the Six Nations, that gets him off to a good start,” said Lancaster.
“If I was one of those senior players in the group, I wouldn’t be resting on my laurels for sure.
“There will be a lot of competition in every position and some of the young players coming through, not just at Leinster but in all the provinces, mean that the senior players are going to need to be at their very best.”
Gibson-Park provides the X-factor
Scrum-half is a particularly competitive position, with long-time starter Conor Murray joined in the squad by perhaps the northern hemisphere’s most in-form No.9 John Cooney, as well as Connacht’s Caolan Blade and Leinster duo Luke McGrath and Jamison Gibson-Park.
Gibson-Park is included in an Ireland squad for the first time after becoming eligible for selection last August and Lancaster insists the 27-year-old can make a real impact.
“It’s an interesting one for Andy,” added Lancaster. “There’s a lot of pressure in that position and now Jamison is eligible, I certainly think he’ll come into the equation because he has got a point of difference.
“He has really grown his personality. He has always had the X-factor as a player – his ability to see a gap, he’s very, very quick. He’s very competitive, he has got a good core skill base.
“His box-kicking, his pass, speed of ball is always good but what has really grown is the confidence within himself.
“It took him a while to really understand that a top-class scrum-half needs to have a personality and be the captain of the team, really, in terms of driving everything.
“He has really grown that. It’s fine doing that in a Leinster environment where he knows everyone. Internationally, it’s different, because it’s a new environment.
“If he was given the opportunity, that’s what I’d like to see from him – that same personality that has grown here. It will be competitive.”