|Sean O'Brien has been ruled out of the 6 Nations|
But are any of those contenders ready for the international stage? I wouldn't be sure either. So what may have advantages for Leinster, there isn't much for Ireland who will surely miss the ballast that O'Brien provides. Here are the other contenders to replace O'Brien in the 6 Nations in ascending order of likelihood:
Form Choice: Sean Dougall
In O'Donnell's absence, Sean Dougall has moved on from his impressive 2012/13 form into something a bit special. He has a fight on his hands to retain the 7 jersey for Munster now that O'Donnell is back, but something tells me that if he wins that battle, he will have more than a few supporters in his corner for international recognition.
Reshuffle for most options: Peter O'Mahony
A few years ago O'Mahony was being heralded as a potential solution to our (Ireland's) lack of an openside. While that hasn't panned out and he's been marvelous on the blindside and at 8, O'Mahony still has the breakdown work, ball carrying and link play to make an effective replacement for O'Brien in the 7 jersey. The number of potential candidates for blindside is a lot more than openside, so this is a potential runner.
Best Choice: Tommy O'Donnell
Entering the season, I was hoping that Ireland would start to give O'Donnell a chance. Fresh off a great season, a back row of O'Brien at 6, O'Donnell at 7 and O'Mahony or Heaslip at 8 filled my dreams. Alas, an injury to O'Donnell scarpered any chance of that in November, and while O'Brien is out, a POM/ TOD/ JH backrow would be my choice. You heard it here first.
Leinster Favouritism Choice: Shane Jennings
A safe choice. Jennings is experienced and a leader. He's worked with Schmidt before, and Schmidt can use his backrows for more flashy stuff with Jennings around. No where near the impact levels of the rest of the contenders, but a Schmidt favourite, so remains a distinct possibility.
Safest Choice: Chris Henry
Just back in training for Ulster, Henry was 4th choice back row throughout the November internationals. His game has improved massively in the last few years and his breakdown work would be vital against the likes of Sam Warburton, Justin Tipuric and Chris Fusaro.