Just three players return from last season’s ranks to start and they are all in the front row: Leinster’s Andrew Porter lines out at loosehead, Connacht’s Conan O’Donnell takes the tighthead duties while Ulster’s Adam McBurney starts at hooker. O’Donnell has eight senior Connacht caps but is an exception to the rule in an Irish side that faces a far more experienced Welsh outfit.
Seven of the Welsh XV are returnees and half a dozen in all have banked considerable senior minutes at regional level. That includes two replacements.
Carolan’s current crew lack the star wattage of their immediate predecessors out back. There is no Garry Ringrose or even a Nick McCarthy at scrum-half although Munster’s Shane Daly is one to watch at outside-centre.
This side’s strength is, well, its strength. Muscle is in no short supply with Porter already a prop of senior proportions and others, such as lock and captain James Ryan, are men with the requisite size and skillset needed to establish a platform for the backs. As always, there will be considerable interest in a grade that has provided rich pickings for the provinces and the senior Ireland squad in recent times, although the conveyor belt of youth isn’t the only provider of prospective talent.
Meanwhile Ulster’s South African-born full-back Louis Ludik has increased his chances of wearing a green jersey of a hue different to that of the Springboks by agreeing to sign a new contract with the northern province that keeps him in Belfast until 2018.
Ludik will now become Irish-qualified as soon as the summer of 2017, by which time he will meet the criteria of World Rugby’s three-year residency rule, and that fact was central to David Nucifora, the IRFU’s performance director, agreeing to the player’s deal.
Indeed, Ulster’s operations director, Bryn Cunningham, was quoted thanking Nucifora and the union “for understanding the clear rationale for allowing us to retain his services”, though it is a decision that could be questioned.
The former Lions, Sharks and Agen back is hardly a long-term prospect at Test level given he will be just months away from his 31st birthday by the time he is cleared to feature and he also joins an expanding band of foreign-born talent at the Kingspan Stadium. Jared Payne became eligible for Irish duty last season while prop Wihahn Herbst is due to follow suit with Ludik in 2017.
Scrum-half Ruan Pienaar and lock Franco van der Merwe are others on the books while Charles Piutau is due to arrive this summer. There have also been reports that a South African back row signing is in the pipeline.
J Power (UCD/Leinster); M Byrne (Terenure/Leinster), S Daly (Cork Con/Munster), J O’Brien (UCD/Leinster), H Keenan UCD/Leinster); J McPhillips (QUB’Ulster), J Poland (Cork Con/Munster); A Porter (UCD/Leinster), A McBurney (Ballymena/Ulster), C O’Donnel (Sligo/Connacht)l; P Claffey (Galwegians/Connacht), J Ryan (Lansdowne/Leinster); C Gallagher (Sligo/ Connacht), W Connors (UCD/Leinster), M Deegan (Lansdowne/Leinster).