The squad for the tournament was announced yesterday in PwC (the team’s sponsor) on Dublin’s North Wall Quay, where the Limerick native — who stepped up from his assistant coaching role following Nigel Carolan’s departure at the end of this year’s Six Nations — included a total of six uncapped players in his 28-man selection.
Ireland defeated New Zealand in last year’s competition, and although the initial focus will be on Pool B encounters with Italy and Scotland, Malone believes his players can head into their June 8 meeting with the Baby Blacks in a confident manner.
“It’s good to get another crack at them. They’re a great rugby nation, and it was great to beat them last year,” he said.
“I think the one thing we can take from that, when we come to that game, is that belief that the green jersey can beat New Zealand. That’s something to have in the back of the mind, whereas in previous years, teams didn’t have that.”
In addition to original skipper Cillian Gallagher (Lansdowne’s Paul Boyle has now taken over as team captain), the quartet of Bill Johnston, Jordan Larmour, Johnny McPhillips, and Tommy O’Brien have also been ruled out of the tournament through injury.
Their absence will be felt ahead of their opening fixture against Italy at the Kutaisi Stadium on May 31, but Malone isn’t prepared to look at it in a negative light.
“We knew that they would be missing from a fair way out, and we planned for it. Players are selfish beings, they won’t really care about the guys that are missing,” he said.
“The players who are injured have to deal with it, they’ll manage it and get back. The guys who are stepping in — they have to take the opportunity because in rugby that’s where opportunity comes from.”
Indeed, three of the key performers in last year’s squad (James Ryan, Jacob Stockdale, and Andrew Porter) will now be part of Joe Schmidt’s set-up for the upcoming tour of the US and Japan, and Malone isn’t surprised by the progress they have made.
“I was delighted to work with those three guys last year, and delighted that they made that step up so quickly. We’d have always felt that those three names would have had great potential to play international rugby.
“This is a high-level competition, and it is a good base camp preparation for the rigours of professional rugby. It is only base camp, and there is another step that they have to go, but I’m delighted the three lads have made that step to get into the squad.”
P Boyle (Lansdowne/Leinster), C Connolly (DUFC/Leinster), J Conway (UL Bohemians/Munster), G Coombes (Young Munster/Munster), P Cooper (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), C Doris (St Mary’s College/Leinster), O Dowling (Lansdowne/Leinster), J Duggan (Naas/Leinster), J Foley (Shannon/Munster), R Kelleher (UCD/Leinster), S Masterson (Corinthians/Connacht), T McElroy (Lansdowne/Leinster), M Rea (Queen’s University/Ulster), J Regan (UCD/Leinster), F Wycherley (Young Munster/Munster), A Curtis (Queen’s University/Ulster), C Dean (UCD/Leinster), C Frawley (UCD/Leinster), C Hogan (DUFC/Munster), J Kelly (DUFC/Leinster), D McCarthy (Garryowen/Munster), G Mullin (UCD/Leinster), C Nash (Young Munster/Munster), J Stafford (Shannon/Munster), J Stewart (Queen’s University/Ulster), M Silvester (DUFC/Leinster), A Tynan (Young Munster/Munster).