The World Cup may be long over, but the ripple effect is set to spill into the upcoming bout of festive PRO14 fixtures with a larger-than-usual number of Ireland internationals set to be excused in an attempt to avoid burnout.
The Christmas meetings of the four provinces have long been diluted by the need to rest the country’s top players, but Leinster head coach Leo Cullen has confirmed that the list of those given shore leave for the holidays will be particularly lengthy this time.
Leinster were the largest bulk supplier to Ireland’s World Cup duties — not just in Japan, but from mid-June on when an expanded group first met for pre-season, and this at a time when the seasons are now being stretched further than ever.
The Guinness PRO14 final will be held on June 20 this year — that’s more or less a month later than last season. Ireland’s Test campaign won’t come to a close until July 11 when they play the second of their summer Tests against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
“So it is just making sure that, over the course of that long season, guys are able to give all of themselves,” said Cullen. “That’s just about being clever. It will be frustrating, I’m sure, for people at certain stages of the season when they don’t see all the Irish household names that they want to.
Leinster can handle that strain better than anyone.
The PRO14 champions have made a habit of filtering new blood into the team without results taking a hit — but the World Cup fast-forwarded that process lately, with a chunk of fringe players profiting from the global focus on Japan.
Josh Murphy came off the bench to make his European debut in Lyon last week. Max Deegan made his first start in the same game, but the speed with which a career can take off was highlighted by the fact that the win over Benetton the week before was Andrew Porter’s first Euro start.
That would be the same Andrew Porter who has 23 Ireland caps already so it doesn’t seem that far-fetched to hear suggestions that Ronan Kelleher may be another academy graduate to be an option for Ireland in the near future.
The hooker now has two Champions Cup starts under his belt, and the retirement of Rory Best and injury to Sean Cronin means there is scope there for personal advancement in the middle of the Ireland front row as the Six Nations swings around.
“It’s the national coaches who make that decision, and there’s still plenty of things to take place before the Six Nations,” said Cullen.
“I’d say they’re watching with great interest all the time but he’s definitely someone who’s pushing through under the radar. Well, he’s not under the radar, he’s very much centre at the moment.”