Munster’s academy players have been promised more game time in the BKT URC by Graham Rowntree after a quartet of young guns made their presence felt against Zebre Parma.
The head coach gave a debut to Conor Philips, 23, and a URC bow to fellow starting wing Patrick Campbell, 20, in the 21-5 victory at Musgrave Park on Saturday evening while lock Edwin Edogbo, 19, got a second run off the bench following a first senior appearance at Dragons six days earlier and back-rower Ruadhan Quinn became Munster’s youngest player of the professional era when the 18-year-old was brought on for the final seven minutes of an otherwise frustrating second half in Cork.
All made impacts as their province notched their first win of the season. Philips, capped by the Ireland Sevens team in 2021, and Campbell, who had made a try-scoring debut last season in the European win at Wasps, showed they have pace to burn and looked extremely comfortable under the high ball while the two forwards were bristling with physicality, Edogbo excellent at the breakdown and Quinn in the carry.
Rowntree spoke of the benefits of pitching them in alongside international and experienced team-mates and of having the academy train full-time with the senior squad, which was introduced by his predecessor Johann van Graan in 2019.
“It’s excellent, just excellent for their development. The senior guys in this club are very good at pulling those guys along, not singling them out in training but pulling them with them.
“He’s electric, Patrick Campbell, the same with Philsy. I was delighted with Ruadhan again, came off the bench, made a debut and made a dent with some good carries up the edge there. He’s a real prospect for the future, especially as he’s only 10 years old. He’s exciting.
“That’s one thing that’s coming through very quickly and I’m looking to force it through, is the youth. We’ve got a good academy and I’m looking at putting these guys through as quickly as is possible.”
Speaking to the Irish Examiner last week, head of academy Ian Costello had also lauded the players in his charge but had presaged Rowntree’s comments about the need to only expose young talent when it was prudent to do so.
Referring to Quinn’s barnstorming performance in pre-season against Gloucester last month and the oft-heard plea from supporters to “play the kids”, Costello said: “There will be a perception and a view from the outside of what people saw on their stream from that (pre-season) match, and they’ll form an opinion. What’s really important is that we look at those games under the microscope and there’s loads that players like Ruadhan still have to learn.
“Ruadhan’s on the bench, someone gets injured and he gets 78 minutes, does really well but there’s loads of parts of his game, even in that game that we know he’s got to work on. He’s played two A games since.
“He’s come through school, won a Senior Cup (with Crescent College Comprehensive) but he was a late developer. He wasn’t in our early (age-grade) squads so he’s got quite a young training age but a very exciting prospect. What we have to be careful about is not thinking these guys are ready to go on 20-game seasons.
“Like, Alex Kendellen played 20 games last year, he is an exception but he was identified years ago and Danielle Cunningham (Age Grade Strength and Conditioning Coach) has been running his programme for about five years.
“Guys like Ruadhan and Edwin Edogbo, Edwin comes from Cobh, a club background and came through a CSP programme, a Clubs and Schools Select that plays in the Senior Cup. It’s an unbelievable initiative from Keith Murphy and Mark Butler that’s starting to produce a an awful lot of club players now from non-traditional rugby schools.
“Edwin played in that, missed out through Covid and a couple of days after signing his academy contract he did his Achilles. He’s played about six games in three years so what he’s been doing this pre-season is phenomenal based on that training age but again, we have to be careful that we don’t think these guys are ready to go for 20 games.”