Nations Cup of ‘big benefit’

Ireland’s director of rugby Eddie Wigglesworth hit back at criticism aimed at the IRFU for participating in the IRB Nations Cup.

Nations Cup of ‘big benefit’

The validity of Ireland’s trip to Romania was questioned on Friday after they piled on 66 points against Russia in a game abandoned midway through the second half due to a thunder and lightning storm.

But Wigglesworth made no apologies for Ireland’s annual involvement and insisted it would be a big benefit for Irish rugby.

“The rationale for taking part in this tournament is that we recognised three or four years ago there was a whole group of players in the development pathway who were not necessarily getting the consistency of rugby required and we needed to see whether they had the potential to step up,” he said.

“What this tournament did, bearing in mind that the senior team would always be taking a large group of players away, was to allow us see another group. After the U20s and the odd game between Ireland A and the Saxons, there was no other Irish fixture that allowed us to see what was available, guys could easily fall into a crack and we had the potential to miss bodies.

“This provides the unique opportunity for players to put on a green jersey, and for us to determine whether they have the ability to go the distance, both from a provincial perspective and from a national one.

“The player pathway is the main reason why we have invested in this, but there is a political pathway; it’s the link with FIRA and this tournament is run by the IRB and FIRA. We have an obligation to give back to European rugby as well, so that’s another reason why we are involved in this and we’re happy to do so.

“Of course, the tournament also suits us because it is a learning process and it gives exposure to more players that might not get that exposure through lack of opportunity. We were actually quite surprised by that result against Russia because we expected a bigger challenge.

“On the other hand, I think that the skill level of the Irish players has been improving all the time, and it was apparent, the Rabo has been very intense and that is now starting to come through on the player base.

“The players are far more physical, certainly more skilful and the other thing is that players now realise there is opportunity.

“Eight of the team that played in this tournament in Tbilisi last year went on tour in Argentina, the players are very quick to realise that this is an opportunity rather than just getting on a tour, it’s a chance to progress, and to progress in a green shirt.”

Meanwhile Johne Murphy has been given the honour of leading Emerging Ireland into battle. Munster utility back Murphy played a leading role in Ireland’s demolition of Russia and takes over the captaincy from Dominic Ryan, who is rested for the second game of a three-match tour.

Murphy moves from full-back to the wing, switching places with Craig Gilroy, and there is a sneaking suspicion that Irish national coach Joe Schmidt asked to for that selection decision from coach Dan McFarland.

Gilroy had been used towards the latter end of the season by Ulster in the 15 jersey to allow Jared Payne be tried out in the centre.

McFarland, the Connacht assistant coach has been given a brief to use each member of his 26-man squad and, following the slaughter of Russia on Friday, he has made 10 changes of personnel.

Six of them are in the pack and four in the backs, while McFarland also tweaked the team with positional switches.

The entire front row had been switched and second row Mick Kearney as well as Tommy O’Donnell are the only survivors in the pack.

John Ryan, Bryan Byrne and Ricky Lutton form a new front row, Billy Holland joins Kearney in the second row while Paddy Butler and Sean Dougall provide coach McFarland with an all Munster back row.

Eoin Griffin switches from outside to inside centre and Murphy has moved from full back to wing to allow McFarland and others higher up to have a look at Craig Gilroy playing 15.

Brendan Macken gets a run at 13 as an indirect replacement for Graeme McCloskey, while Michael Allen takes Andrew Conway’s place on the left wing and there is also a change at half back with JJ Hanrahan and Luke McGrath coming in for Ian Keatley and Paul Marshall respectively.

EMERGING IRELAND: C Gilroy (Ulster), J Murphy (Munster, captain), B Macken (Leinster), E Griffin (Connacht), M Allen (Ulster), JJ Hanrahan (Munster), L McGrath (Leinster), J Ryan (Munster), B Byrne (Leinster), R Lutton (Ulster), M Kearney (Connacht), B Holland (Munster), T O’Donnell (Munster), P Butler (Munster), S Dougall (Munster).

Replacements: J Tracey (Leinster), C Black (Ulster), D Foley (Munster), D Ryan (Leinster), P Marshall (Ulster), I Keatley (Munster), A Conway (Munster).

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