Schmidt shuffles Ireland pack
Joe Schmidt (Getty Images)
London - Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has included seven uncapped players in an enlarged 44-man squad for the 2014 Six Nations announced on Tuesday.
Connacht's New Zealand-born prop Rodney Ah You was among the newcomers along with Cardiff Blues' Robin Copeland and their fellow forwards Robbie Diack, Rob Herring, Martin Moore and Jordi Murphy, with Kieran Marmion the lone uncapped back.
Injuries meant Richardt Strauss, Donnacha Ryan, Roger Wilson, Tommy Bowe, Simon Zebo, Declan Fitzpatrick and Craig Gilroy were left out at this stage, with the septet first having to convince Schmidt of their fitness at provincial level before he considers them for Test deuty in what will be the New Zealander's first Six Nations as Ireland coach.
But back-rows Sean O'Brien and Stephen Ferris are unlikely to be fit in time to feature in this season's Championship.
"As always a number of the selections were very tight," Schmidt said in an Irish Rugby Football Union statement.
"Following on from the end-of-year internationals, there is an experienced core of players in the squad who will offer continuity, as well as some new additions who have been selected with an eye to the future," added Schmidt, who so nearly guided Ireland to a first win over his native New Zealand before the side lost 24-22 to the world champion All Blacks in Dublin in November.
"With Robin Copeland returning to play in Ireland next season (with Munster) it will be an opportunity for him to impress during the training week, while some of the younger or less experienced players such as Rob Herring, Iain Henderson, Rhys Ruddock, Kieran Marmion and Felix Jones have turned in some very positive performances to earn spots in the squad."
Ireland begin what is set to be Brian O'Driscoll's final Six Nations before retirement against Scotland at Dublin's Lansdowne Road on February 2.
O'Driscoll needs to make just one more Ireland appearance to take sole possession of the Irish record of 128 caps he shares with former fly-half Ronan O'Gara.
Isaac Boss (Leinster), Darren Cave (Ulster), Gordon D'Arcy (Leinster), Keith Earls (Munster), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster), Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Paddy Jackson (Ulster), Felix Jones (Munster), David Kearney (Leinster), Rob Kearney (Leinster), Ian Keatley (Munster), Ian Madigan (Leinster), Kieran Marmion (Connacht), Luke Marshall (Ulster), Fergus McFadden (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster), Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Jonathan Sexton (Racing Metro/FRA), Andrew Trimble (Ulster)
Rodney Ah You (Connacht), Stephen Archer (Munster), Rory Best (Ulster), Robin Copeland (Cardiff Blues/WAL), Sean Cronin (Leinster), Robbie Diack (Ulster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Chris Henry (Ulster), Rob Herring (Ulster),David Kilcoyne (Munster), Mike McCarthy (Leinster), Jack McGrath (Leinster), Martin Moore (Leinster), Jordi Murphy (Leinster), Paul O'Connell (Munster), Tommy O'Donnell (Munster), Peter O'Mahony (Munster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Rhys Ruddock (Leinster), Devin Toner (Leinster), Dan Tuohy (Ulster), Damian Varley (Munster)
2 February: v Scotland (h)
8 February: v Wales (h)
22 February: v England (a)
8 March: v Italy (h)
15 March: v France (a)