“Leinster fans and flags” by justinhourigan (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Ireland rugby national boss Joe Schmidt has named 16 Leinster players in the 32-man touring party is heading Down Under for a three-Test series in Australia in June.
The Irish travel to the Southern Hemisphere as Six Nations Grand Slam winners but haven’t won a series in that part of the world since 1979. There is optimism, however, that the almost 40-year hoodoo could end this summer.
Not only did Ireland sweep all-comers aside in the Six Nations, but Leinster lifted the European Champions Cup, so it’s no surprise to see Schmidt recognising the province’s players after they won a major trophy.
Close betting heat
The bookmakers have the Irish and Wallabies very close together in the series win markets, so you might want to look at the latest betting offers & promotions, as it looks like being difficult to call.
Australia are the narrowest of favourites – just odds-on before a rugby ball is kicked at 10/11 with Boylesports, with Ireland priced at a tempting evens with Betway. The series correct scoreline market may also be of interest to punters, with Wallabies coach Michael Cheika desperate to avoid a repeat of what happened the last time his side hosted Grand Slam champions.
That was two years ago during Eddie Jones’s first six months in charge of England and the Red Rose whitewashed the Aussies. Ireland are 5/1 to emulate what their fellow British Isles nation did Down Under and 2/1 to edge the series 2-1.
Leinster props aplenty among forward options
Four of the seven prop forwards named by Schmidt are from Leinster; these include established Irish internationals Cian Healy, Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong. Sean Cronin, meanwhile, is understudy to captain Rory Best of Ulster at hooker. Andrew Porter is the youngest of the front rowers from Leinster in the touring party.
Second row pair James Ryan – the man of the match in that European Champions Cup triumph over French side Racing 92 -and Devin Toner are an established partnership for their provincial club. Schmidt also has Ulster’s Iain Henderson included at lock despite fitness doubts.
Flankers Dan Leavy and Jordi Murphy – who is leaving Leinster for Ulster this summer – and number eight Jack Conan complete the forward options from the province on the Irish roster. Munster duo CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony are the main competition for back row spots.
Fly half, full back and centre covered
Three half backs led by Ireland’s first-choice kicker Jonny Sexton and understudy fly halves Joey Carbery and the uncapped Ross Byrne are included. Sexton often gets targeted by opposition teams because of his fitness record, so Schmidt is smart enough to choose deputies at 10 that are also within the Leinster setup.
Centres Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose are established for both club and country. Henshaw missed the final three Six Nations matches with a shoulder injury but returned to action in time to help Leinster to European Champions Cup glory and so can reprise his midfield partnership at international level too.
Who plays at full back for Schmidt’s side is a straight choice between two Leinster players; the experienced Rob Kearney and Jordan Larmour. So many players from this successful province in the setup gives Ireland every chance of following-up on Six Nations glory Down Under.