As he prepares to this week name his Six Nations squad, Andy Farrell will be glad that Leinster were back in competitive action last weekend in the Heineken Champions Cup.
The standard of interprovincial rugby in the previous weeks was quite poor, coincidentally none of them included Leinster who hadn't played for five weeks before their destruction of Montpellier on Sunday.
Managing the third fastest try-scoring bonus point and breaking the record for their highest winning margin, Leinster embarrassed the underpowered French side. However, they lost James Ryan to a hamstring injury before kick-off and Tadgh Furlong was gone after just five minutes.
Furlong is probably the most important member of the Irish side, and not easily replaced, despite Andrew Porter’s form when he filled in at the tight head side of the scrum.
Furlong hasn’t been getting the accolades he deserves, possibly because his head is stuck in scrums and mauls but we’ve seen his ball-playing ability and dancing feet too.
For Ireland to build in to the World Cup, they’ll be tightly managing Furlong’s game time and hopefully the injury isn’t of major concern.
Farrell will be hoping not to lose any other of his most experienced players between now and the Six Nation, which starts on 5 February.
Johnny Sexton appeared off the bench for Leinster to keep him fresh and manage his game time.
However, time is running out for Farrell to build his squad ahead of the next World Cup. This Six Nations could be one of the last tournaments where Ireland can be slightly more experimental.
Farrell has been clever with how he introduces players to the exposure of international rugby.
He could easily have changed the whole team against Argentina in the Autumn after beating the All Blacks, instead he chose to give certain guys a run with close to a starting side so that those players get a fair crack at the jersey without compromising their opportunity with a lot of changes and unfamiliarity.
This Six Nations is a great opportunity to do something similar.
Robert Balacoune had another fantastic performance for Ulster against Northampton. He is deceptively strong in contact, a combination of foot work, the ball in two hands and his athletic strength to go with it.
His shoulder injury against Clermont as a result of a tip tackle was a blow for Ulster but he is clearly back up and running after his performance at the weekend.
His team-mate James Hume has been turning heads too with his physicality in the Ulster midfield.
He’s confident in his own ability, at times spilling over to youthful arrogance, but his ability on the field is going from strength to strength.
Hume is very capable in contact and his left-footed step is making him the danger man in the Ulster back line. He’s taking on more and more responsibility with Ulster and provides that spark to get them into a flow on the front foot in attack.
It’s time to see if he can step up for Farrell, although he’s in a highly competitive position in the Ireland squad.
Garry Ringrose will still be in control of that 13 jersey in the biggest games, the inside centre spot is also easily controlled by Leinster’s Robbie Henshaw, however, there are plenty of options in the midfield for Farrell, who rarely has luxury of the Leinster duo and Bundee Aki all being fit.
Ciaran Frawley, like Hume, is ready to step up to international honours.
The Leinster man, having played at out-half at various levels, provides something a bit different as a second receiver, yet, still has the frame to manage himself physically.
The question marks will be around the opposing international centres, who regularly play close to 110kg and well over six feet tall.
However, there’s no point in comparing apples with oranges. If you’re looking for someone to back Henshaw up as the key figure in the 12 jersey for Ireland, you could do worse things than to prepare Frawley for more game time at the higher level.
When you look at the most recent run of games for the provinces, it’s becoming more evident that Tadhg Beirne has to be in Farrell’s side, and it doesn’t really matter where.
Leinster’s backrow of Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan and Caelan Doris is highly effective and each one deserves their spot. With current injuries to James Ryan and Iain Henderson’s lack of recent game time, is there a chance for Beirne in the second row?
Each time he puts on a jersey, Beirne has a strong influence on the game.
He may not look like he has the free-flowing athleticism of the Leinster back-row, but he can compete in every facet of the game.
Physically dominating, a handful at the breakdown and he runs great lines in attack. That was seen back in his Scarlets days and he’s still doing that when given the chance.
Gavin Coombes was another guy who was unlucky not to get his shot last Autumn, more so due to availability than selection by Farrell. He is in a similar position to Frawley and Hume, it’s time to see what he can do at the higher level, considering his consistent performance with Munster.
Depending on which province you’re from, there will be shouts for Craig Casey, John Cooney, Nathan Doak and possibly Kieran Marmion to fill Conor Murray’s boots.
Farrell will have a tough time whittling down his options, as he will in the out-half position, despite not having Joey Carbery available. Will he finally get Jack Carty back into the squad or will he persist with three Leinster out-halves?
It’s very easy to point out who should be selected and given a chance, but there are only so many positions in the squad. With the World Cup now edging closer, there won’t be time for mass exploration.
However, there’s still time to bring four or five quality players into the squad to add another dynamic, to push the competition within the squad and to maximise the riches of talent currently spread out around the provinces.
Andy Farrell has some decisions to make in terms of deciding on the blend between experience and opportunities with development. These decisions don’t come lightly. Ireland need to kick on and build on their performances in the autumn.
Things seem to have clicked and he won’t be playing around with that too much either, confidence within the squad is hugely important so he won’t be throwing that away in the hope of spreading out the available game time.
Despite the inconsistencies within the provinces' performances, Ireland are in a strong position ahead of the upcoming Six Nations.
Follow Bath v Leinster (Saturday, 1pm), Ulster v Clermont (Saturday, 5.30pm), Stade v Connacht (Sunday, 1pm) and Munster v Wasps (Sunday, 3.15pm) via our live blogs on rte.ie/sport or on the RTÉ News App, or listen to live radio coverage of Bath v Leinster on RTÉ Radio 1 Extra and RTÉ Radio 1.