Ireland’s Bank of Ireland Autumn Nations games against South Africa, Fiji and Australia will force head coach Andy Farrell to explore his squad’s depth, according to Bernard Jackman.
Farrell named a 37-man squad for next month’s Test window yesterday, with six uncapped players included, owing to injuries for Iain Henderson, Andrew Conway, James Lowe and Keith Earls, as well as suspension for Bundee Aki.
Of the six uncapped players, Munster’s Calvin Nash is the only who will be having his first experience of the squad, with Joe McCarthy, Jimmy O’Brien, Cian Prendergast, Jeremy Loughman and Ciarán Frawley all having been on tour with Ireland last summer in New Zealand.
Twenty-five-year-old Nash has started the season well, impressing on the Emerging Ireland tour of South Africa, while also looking sharp on his return for Munster last week, before suffering an ankle injury against the Bulls.
Injuries have often hit Nash at just the wrong time in the early stages of his career, limiting him to just 39 games for the province, but Jackman says the Limerick man could make huge strides in a short period of time with his international exposure.
“He’s been really unlucky,” Jackman told the RTÉ Rugby podcast.
“I was really impressed with him in the time he had the other night, although every time I see him I’m impressed with him. I was worried the ankle injury would have been enough to keep him out for November, so it’s great that the medical reports are telling Andy Farrell he’ll be back.
“You get players sometimes who, for a couple of seasons, struggle to get momentum, and if they get one break in an international squad, they show what they can do.
“The credit they build carries on and they get picked in squads again, but for a younger player like him, it’s about getting that opportunity.
“It’s probably the Fiji match, more likely, that he’ll get a chance to shine in, but he certainly looks like he has the ability to add to the depth that’s there.”
Ian Keatley played with Nash at Munster while the wing progressed through the province’s academy, while he also briefly coached him in the Energia All-Ireland League at Young Munster.
And the former out-half says the latest Irish squad is showing the value of the controversial Emerging Ireland tour earlier this month.
“From a Munster perspective, seeing Calvin Nash, I was coaching him when he first started out in the Cookies [Young Munster]. You wouldn’t say he’s an out-and-out starter for Munster, so to see him get in there is a little bit of a surprise, but I’m delighted for him,” Keatley said.
“It shows the effect of the Emerging Ireland tour. Everyone was wondering what the positives of the tour would be, the effects it had on the provincial side, Munster probably got hit the hardest with it, but I think we can see the fruits of it now; Jack Crowley, Calvin Nash, Shane Daly, they’ve been looked at by the Irish coaches.
“It’s great to see those type of boys included in the squad.”
On top of the 37-man squad, 12 players have been named to an additional Ireland ‘A’ squad, for a game against an All Black XV on Friday 4 November at the RDS.
And Jackman believes the full November programme for the Irish squad will provide a valuable opportunity to deepen the squad, one year out from a World Cup.
“We’re seeing guys come in who have shown-up well; Calvin Nash, Jimmy O’Brien, Prendergast (above) has done well in New Zealand and did well on the Emerging Ireland tour. Dave Heffernen has been good for Connacht, and with Ronan Kelleher out he was a natural choice to come in. Nick Timoney has been really good for Ulster.
“It’s nice to see the Ireland ‘A’ panel, I’m a big believer in getting extra games in November, because we have such depth, it’s important for players like [Diarmuid] Barron, Tom Ahern, James Hume, young players.
“And then you have players like Dave Kilcoyne who has nearly 50 caps, and Marty Moore, who only has 10 caps, but is someone that could make a late push for the World Cup. I thought Farrell had no faith in him, but I think it’s nice to see his form for Ulster be rewarded with a place, even if it’s not in the senior squad.
“High profile guys like Earls, Lowe and Conway are out, but we still have Stockdale who’s proven at that level, and lots of other options.
“This November, because of injury, it will give us a chance to see what’s between 30 and 45, in terms of our player depth.”
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