Winners and losers from Ireland’s Six Nations squad, including Jonathan Sexton’s replacement

Jared Wright
Ireland Six Nations captain Peter O'Mahony, head coach Andy Farrell and lock James Ryan.

Ireland Six Nations captain Peter O'Mahony, head coach Andy Farrell and lock James Ryan.

Following Andy Farrell’s announcement of the 34 Ireland players selected for the 2024 Six Nations, we pick our winners and losers.

Ireland kick off their title defence with a trip to Marseille, where they will tackle France at the Stade Velodrome.

The defending champions will be looking to bounce back from their Rugby World Cup disappointment, and Farrell has backed a largely similar squad that featured at the tournament with a few fresh faces.

Without further ado, here are our winners and losers.


Skipper Peter O’Mahony

Like England, Ireland needed a new captain for their Six Nations campaign, with last year’s skipper Jonathan Sexton hanging up his boots after the World Cup.

While Caelan Doris was heavily linked with filling Sexton’s role, Farrell has opted for the straightforward choice of the experienced Peter O’Mahony. A standard-setter and man known for never taking a step backwards, O’Mahony not only ticks all the boxes to be a successful international captain, he thrives with the responsibility.

He is still one of the best flankers in the game, particularly when it comes to the lineouts, and is just the kind of player to fill the role until the long-term replacement makes a strong claim for the position.

It’s a huge mark of respect for O’Mahony to be appointed as captain, particularly with the flanker reportedly not being offered an extension to his central contract – which will probably change now.

Harry Byrne and Ciaran Frawley

Staying with the replacements for Sexton, Leinster duo Harry Byrne and Ciaran Frawley have been included in the squad to compete with Jack Crowley for the jumper.

Byrne is particularly fortunate, having sustained an injury that ruled him out of Leinster’s victory over Stade Francais. Meanwhile, Frawley is arguably better suited in the midfield but has seemingly been preferred by the Test setup in the fly-half role.

With Ross Byrne injured, the pair have the ideal opportunity to move up the pecking order and apply the pressure on Crowley.

Cian Healy

Fair play, Cian Healy. The Ireland international could have easily hung up his boots following his Rugby World Cup-ending injury but has worked his way back to full fitness and continues to be a key cog for the province and country.

World-class scrummaging props is a premium on the international stage, and Healy certainly fits the bill even at 36, while he also has the added bonus of being able to scrum at hooker too.

Tom Stewart and Nick Timoney

With Rob Herring sidelined, his understudy at Ulster gets his chance to shine as Tom Stewart earns a well-deserved recall to the Ireland squad.

Meanwhile, Nick Timoney is one of the few surprise inclusions in the squad as he beat out the likes of Thomas Ahern, John Hodnett and Gavin Coombes, among others, to secure a call-up.

Wing trio

It is a largely unchanged squad from the one that did duty at the World Cup, but injuries and Keith Earls’ retirement have opened the door for many to force their way back into contention, particularly on the wing.

Mack Hansen and Jimmy O’Brien have both been ruled out for the tournament, and three players have well-truly earned their recalls through their form with their respective provinces.

Jordan Larmour produced a masterclass against Stade Francais last weekend, but that was not a one-off this season, while Jacob Stockdale has overcome his injury struggles and is thriving with Ulster.

Finally, Calvin Nash has been consistently excellent for Munster and has the chance to add to his single Test cap.

19 Leinster players

It’s hardly surprising yet still impressive that a single province has provided the national setup with more than half of the player pool.

19 of the 34 players included in Farrell’s squad ply their trade in Dublin while young fly-half Sam Prendergast features as a ‘training panellist’.

The squad comprises of 11 Leinster forwards and eight backs.


Training trio

Farrell has included three players as ‘training panellists’, and while the trio should be pleased that they are in the selection mix, it certainly feels like a bit of a cop-out from the Ireland boss: either select them or don’t.

The trio are Oli Jager, Ahern and Prendergast, all of whom are currently uncapped and are the only players yet to win a cap for Ireland to feature.

Getting 20-year-old Prendergast training with the squad is certainly a good move from Farrell, but surely 23-year-old Ahern has done enough this season to crack the call-up, and if he hasn’t, then don’t select him.

The same applies to Ahern’s Munster teammate Jager, who, at 28, is in his prime as a front rower. He has also more than proven his quality before joining the Irish province and hasn’t let his standard slip.

James Ryan and Garry Ringrose

There had to be some losers in the race for the captaincy, and the Leinster co-captains were arguably the two standout options, along with O’Mahony, once Doris ruled himself out of the running.

Ringrose is unfortunate to miss out, but his up-and-down form may have cost him, as well as the competitive nature of the starting centres with Bundee Aki starring at the World Cup.

Meanwhile, Ryan often captained Ireland when Sexton was rested or injured but has not been handed the role now that the experienced number 10 has hung up his boots and rightly so. The Leinster lock was effectively stripped of his captaincy during the opening two rounds of the Champions Cup by the referees who refused to communicate with him after their earlier exchanges. He would have fancied his chance, but his actions ultimately ruled him out of the running.

Back-row trio

Irish fans may be concerned that Farrell and his playing squad might be getting a bit complacent, and those concerns are entirely just.

There really isn’t much movement in the squad despite some players more than pressing their claims and forcing the issue. Case in point is Munster number eight Gavin Coombes, who is consistently one of the best players on the pitch for his province.

However, Farrell continues to favour Jack Conan, who is unlikely to crack the squad for the 2027 World Cup as he is already 31. Even if he is able to, Conan is stuck behind Doris in the pecking order for Leinster’s number eight jersey, and that is extremely unlikely to change in the Test setup.

Coombes is not the only Munster star to be overlooked as Hodnett continues to exceed expectations, but his pleas continue to be ignored.

Finally, Connacht’s Cian Prendergast fell just short of making the World Cup squad last year and has now fallen even further down the pecking order as he is snubbed entirely.

Injured quartet

Injuries are part of the game, and for Ireland, the likes of Mack Hansen, Ross Byrne, Jimmy O’Brien, and Rob Herring will all miss the Six Nations title defence.

It’s a particularly harsh blow for Hansen, who was in fine form and continued to redefine his role in the starting lineup.

As for O’Brien, he was starting to cement his place in the squad, while Byrne had the chance to start the Six Nations as the starting fly-half following Sexton’s retirement.

Herring is often undervalued in the Test setup, and while Stewart will look to make the most of his opportunity, his Ulster teammate’s absence will be felt.

Simon Zebo

If Stockdale, Nash and Larmour are all winners, Simon Zebo is, unfortunately, a loser from this squad selection.

The experienced Munster back has returned from injury in stellar form and looked to be on track for a recall to the Test setup and earn his first cap since 2017, but it was not to be.

Antoine Frisch and James Hume

The injuries in the wing positions could have opened up the possibility that Ringrose could feature on the wing during the Six Nations, which may have opened up another centre spot in the squad.

Munster’s Antoine Frisch and Ulster’s James Hume were well-placed to fill that role if it opened, but in the end, it did not. Regardless, the pair of exciting midfielders would have been more than worthy call-ups even on merit and are unfortunately just behind quality operators in Bundee Aki, Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw.

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