Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has dismissed allegations that he is picking players based on reputation ahead of next month's Test series against South Africa.
Schmidt has been criticised for selecting just five Connacht players – Robbie Henshaw, Kieran Marmion, Quinn Roux, Finlay Bealham and Ultan Dillane – in his squad after the Irish province won the PRO12 Final against Leinster at the weekend.
There were renewed questions over the omission of Connacht's impressive back three, Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun and Matt Healy, who played a big role in Connacht's PRO12 success.
Although Healy is set to come into the squad as a replacement for the injured Luke Fitzgerald, Schmidt has once again been criticised by Irish fans for taking the conservative route when selecting his squad.
Schmidt disagrees that he is picking players based on reputation and suggested that the competition was tight for back-three places.
“I don’t think the word reputation is applicable,” he told reporters.
“I think performance is. A number of the guys [selected] have performed well at Test level.
“Some of those guys, Tiernan say, has had an in-and-out season with injury. He’s only just got back and really started to get a playing rhythm. I had a discussion with him and I think he did exceptionally well on Saturday.
“Niyi, this time two years ago was playing [Division] 1B for Trinity and what Pat’s done to get those guys together and make them as competitive as they are speaks in unbelievable volumes for what he’s capable of doing with that team and what those players have done to make themselves as competitive as they are.
“I do think that we will see some of those guys start to emerge. I think it’s one of the tough positions to make, with the likes of Keith Earls there. I thought Andrew Trimble had a really good season. He was carrying a bit of an injury when he played in the semi-final.
“I knew that, so I kind of factored that in. I thought Luke was exceptional in that game when he came back.
“I think it’s hard when it’s a very competitive position. I thought one of the Leinster players who did have a good game at the weekend was still Dave Kearney.
“He did some very good stuff. It’s a very competitive position for us. If they were second-rows they’d probably have a better chance but it is one of those positions that it is tougher to make it.”