O’Sullivan gives youngsters chance to shine against England

IRISH coach Eddie O’Sullivan has opted for youthful promise in the Ireland A team to meet England in Gloucester on Friday night (7.45pm).

O’Sullivan admitted he could have chosen several players with more experience, but said he was mindful of giving youth its fling and exposing our burgeoning talent to rugby at a high level.

The coach explained: “I’m glad to see A internationals back on the schedule, but we only have two this season, so it made sense to me to allow young players come through to take their place in the pecking order.”

Mick O’Driscoll will captain the side, and it includes fellow senior internationals Tommy Bowe, Kieran Lewis, Jeremy Staunton, David Quinlan, Matt McCullough and Neil Best. However, this group have only 22 caps between them.

“I could have actually put eight or ten guys in there with more experience, but they don’t need experience; they’re all seasoned internationals.

“We looked to this fixture to give the young guys another opportunity to gain experience, and we did so in the knowledge that we’ll be sending an experimental team to the Churchill Cup in America this summer. This game offers guys to build on whatever experience they have had to date,” he said.

It should, said O’Sullivan, be of particular benefit to out half Jeremy Staunton, who has re-emerged as a runner for a place in the Irish set up thanks to solid displays with Wasps in England and Europe.

O’Sullivan suggested: “There is a dearth of real quality number 10’s available to us below the obvious guys at the top. It’s nice to see that Jeremy has been back in form with Wasps and that he is getting regular games.”

He even hinted that it might not be a bad thing for certain players to move to England or France, if they had to play regular rugby.

In assessing Staunton’s recent progress, O’Sullivan noted: “Guys like that need regular rugby. We can’t assess players properly if we have to watch them play the odd bit of a game from the bench. The fact that he has been playing regular top class rugby has clearly benefited Jeremy. You see Paddy Wallace on the bench - he’s a quality player - but he’s really not getting much chance with Ulster.

“The A internationals are very good for us. I see them as a huge link in the chain to the top, and I’m glad they’re back.”

IRELAND A (v England A, Gloucester, Friday, 7.45pm): R. Kearney (Leinster), T. Bowe (Ulster), K. Lewis (Leinster), D. Quinlan (Northampton), I. Dowling (Munster), J. Staunton (Wasps), T. O’Leary (Munster); R. Hogan (Connacht), J. Fogarty (Connacht), B. Young (Ulster), M. O’Driscoll, captain (Munster), M. McCullough (Ulster), N. Best (Ulster), S. Jennings (Leicester), J. Heaslip (Leinster).

Replacements: B. Blaney (Leinster), R. McCormack (Leinster), L. Cullen (Leicester), R. Wilson (Ulster), C. Keane (Connacht), P Wallace (Ulster), G. Duffy (Harlequins).

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