After confirming his 33-man squad for the fast-approaching Six Nations championship, Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan talked to RTE Radio 1’s Drivetime Sport. See below for what he had to say.
ON THE SELECTED SQUAD AND THE YOUNG PLAYERS INCLUDED:
“Talking to the players on a day-to-day basis, they all want to get back and get on with the Six Nations. It’s all hands to the pump again. The young players are in there for a good reason – because these guys have been playing well.
“We’re going into the Six Nations championship, the big tournament for us and the benchmark of how we’re doing. I’ve always picked a form squad going into it and picked the guys that are playing well and I think that’s reflected in this selection.
“The good news is that some young guys who wouldn’t have been in the frame up to now have put up their hands in the last couple of months and earned their selection. That’s a good sign of the talent that’s beginning to push its way through again.”
ON CIAN HEALY, JONATHAN SEXTON AND THE LEINSTER PACK:
“If you’re picking four props – two loooseheads and two tightheads – Cian Healy has forced his way in as one of the form looseheads. Jonathan Sexton, in terms of playing out-half for Leinster, has looked very good. You’ve got to reward that.
“You’re never sure but when you get guys into camp and we’re all training together, you get another angle on them.
“You always get more information on them and sometimes guys step up even further to the plate when they’re in amongst the seasoned internationals. It’s a good time for guys to come in and see where they are.
“(The number of Leinster players included) that’s a fair reflection on how Leinster have been performing. I think the Leinster pack have been much maligned over the years and they’ve always been referred to as just a team with a back-line.
“I think this year you see Cian Healy, Bernard Jackman, Leo Cullen coming in there. Jamie Heaslip, another player who has been on the fringes for us. They’ve all performed well under pressure in the Heineken Cup.
“That’s the real acid test – the European competition – for these guys. They’ve delivered the goods so it’s only fair that they’re rewarded for that.”
ON THE COMPETITION FOR PLACES IN THE BACK ROW:
“It was a tough call in the back row, we were only going to pick seven back rows – two number 8s, three number 6s and two opensides.
“Johnny O’Connor is back on the horse in Connacht. We’ve watched Connacht closely and he’s been playing out of his skin so he’s edged out both Keith (Gleeson) and Shane Jennings.
“I’ve always had this difficulty picking the Irish back row. It’s a difficult one because there’s so much talent. You’ve got to go with the guys who are doing the job and Johnny has edged those other guys out.”
ON NEXT WEEKEND BEING AN IMPORTANT ONE FOR IRISH SQUAD SELECTION:
“Next weekend, the final round of European games, is still a big weekend. I’ve always believed that, at the end of the day, the best time to pick a team is when you have the most information.
“If we go through another tough weekend in the Heineken Cup, when we get into camp next Monday we’ll have more information on the guys and we’ll know the guys who are still doing the job the best…that gives me a clearer idea on picking the 22 (for the Italy game).
“Obviously you have opinions formed but I’m always open to changing those if somebody pushes you hard enough, so it is a big weekend for lots of guys. The back five is a huge area – in the second row and back row guys are going to be jockeying very hard for limited positions there.”