Two former Ireland managers have expressed surprise that Luke McGrath had skipped ahead of Kieran Marmion in Joe Schmidt's reckoning.
The Connacht number nine was a firm favorite under Schmidt whenever Conor Murray was unavailable and can count starts in the 2018 win over New Zealand and the 2017 Six Nations victory over England among his 27 caps.
McGrath, whose 13 caps include just one Six Nations game, was left out of a tour to Australia last year, falling behind Ulster’s John Cooney, who himself was cut from the extended World Cup squad without getting any game time.
While the omission of lock Devin Toner was the biggest shock of the announcement, the decision to axe Marmion also came out of the blue.
"It’s a big call by any stretch and I don’t think many people expected it because Marmion has done everything that was asked of him," Eddie O’Sullvan, who was in charge between 2001 and 2008, told RTÉ Sport.
"He’s never had a bad game in a green shirt and I’m sure he’s gutted, he mightn’t have even seen it coming himself .
"The two scrum-halves was always going to be a conundrum for Joe Schmidt but he’s leaving himself exposed if anything happens to those players.
"He feels McGrath has something extra to add, only he knows why."
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Another former Ireland manager, Donal Lenihan, agrees with O’Sullivan, and believes that the club connection was a factor in Schmidt’s call.
"I must say I thought Marmion was in pole position," Lenihan told 2fm’s Game On.
"I think the fact that Luke McGrath has so much experience of playing with Johnny Sexton, and Joey Carbery prior to his move to Munster, may have been that small thing that got him the nod."
O’Sullivan added that while people will be quick to rush to judgement on the Toner issue, they should keep in mind that the coach is making a calculated decision.
He said: "It’s a surprise that he left him out but I think he sees more around the field with Jean Kleyn in terms of carrying and physical impact although again we didn’t see that [in the 57-15 loss to] England.
"You have to give the coach the final call because he has the most information on it."
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