Alan Quinlan believes the eight uncapped players named in Ireland’s squad for next month’s tour to Japan should be targeting a place in Joe Schmidt’s first 15 by the time the Asian country hosts the World Cup in 2019.
It’s not like there isn’t precedent.
Of the 23 players who featured against France in the decisive pool game in 2015, four made their debuts only two years out from the tournament. Robbie Henshaw and Dave Kearney started that day. Jack McGrath and Ian Madigan appeared as replacements.
Paddy Jackson, who also featured in the tournament, was another to break onto the scene in 2013. Others left it later. Jordi Murphy joined the Test club in the spring of 2014. Tadhg Furlong and Nathan White waited until the World Cup warm-ups before earning caps.
“I had five or six (uncapped players) in my squad but when you get to two years’ time some of these guys could be starters in this team,” said Quinlan. “We have seen that before two years out from World Cups and this is a chance to have a look at some of these guys, for them to be in a pressurised environment with Joe Schmidt and see what their character is like as well.
“They are all there on merit.”
What is interesting about those fresher faces at the last global event is the fact that Murphy was the only one elevated during the Six Nations. Schmidt has stressed time and again how the competition remains the IRFU’s bread and butter.
The rest dipped their toes in the water on summer tours, during World Cup warm-ups or against the weakest of the November opponents so Japan will be the perfect testing ground for the likes of Kieran Treadwell, James Ryan, Rory Scannell and Jacob Stockdale.
“James Ryan is probably the big talking point. I watched him closely last year for the Ireland U20s and people are talking about him being very similar to Paul O’Connell and having some great attributes. He is a fantastic player and it is brilliant to see him in the mix.
“Eyebrows were raised last week when he was announced in a Munster development side but he is a great addition and someone who could push on and play in 2019 in Japan. There is no doubt about that, he is a really talented guy.
“I was delighted to see Rory O’Loughlin in. I was very impressed with him this year for Leinster and the impact he has made.
“Jacob Stockdale is another one. He is a brilliant player. All these guys can learn a lot. We’re not saying they are the finished articles.”
Others have even further to go. Leinster’s Adam Byrne and Munster’s Darren Sweetnam have both made headlines on the wing this season and if Byrne’s defensive game stood against him, then Sweetnam’s omission is a mite more difficult to square away.
“That’s disappointing for him but the second half of the season has been a bit stop-start for injuries,” Quinlan suggested.
“Joe does like him. He was a latecomer to the game and still needs to improve a bit but he has natural talent and ability and workrate, speed, power.”
Sweetnam will likely get the chance to push his international ambitions again this Saturday when Munster face the Ospreys in the second semi-final. The expectation is that Leinster will have already done their bit against the Ospreys by then to set up an all-Irish decider.
“I’m not sure Munster and Leinster would like to be playing each other,” said Quinlan. “It’ll be interesting to see if (Munster) can respond and bounce back from the manner of the defeat to Saracens because it was a bit of a hammer blow in the end.
“They are good enough. They have shown that throughout the year. Leinster are still the favourites. They have played the best rugby in the competition but neither province can underestimate the Scarlets or Ospreys on the dry ground and with the pace they have,” he added.
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