Emerging Ireland preparing for ‘step up’ against Pumas

Coach Simon Easterby will expect a sterner examination on Wednesday.
Emerging Ireland preparing for ‘step up’ against Pumas

ON TOUR: Emerging Ireland head coach Simon Easterby before the first game in South Africa. 

Emerging Ireland are set to field a new-look side in Wednesday’s second Toyota Challenge tour game against the Pumas in Bloemfontein.

It would be fair to say that last Friday’s opening encounter against Griquas went better than anyone from the touring group could have expected as they weathered an early storm before cruising to a 54-7 win.

Immediately after the game, coach Simon Easterby lavished praise on a young group that not only stood up to the physicality of a gutsy Griquas team, but overcame altitude and warm mid-afternoon temperatures to finish the game with a flourish.

“The coming together of the 34 players has been really impressive and that showed in our performance,” Easterby said. “There are plenty of things we'd like to tidy up on, but as a first hit out, we're pretty pleased with the way the players performed.” 

Players such as Jack Crowley, Thomas Ahern, Joe McCarthy and Scott Penny all enjoyed standout performances, but it was the entire team cohesion that proved to be the most pleasing aspect for a squad that had limited preparation time together.

However, this tour is also all about exposing the wider group to the experience of playing in South Africa, and it stands to reason that there will be several changes to the side for the mid-week match against the Pumas.

Once again, the Pumas will be seen as somewhat of an unknown opposition, but earlier this year they claimed a historic Currie Cup title in South Africa’s domestic competition.

To add some much-needed context, the Currie Cup has become a largely watered down competition in recent years, particularly as a big focus for South African rugby has turned towards the entry of the Lions, Stormers, Sharks and Bulls into the United Rugby Championship.

Having said that, the Pumas should present a far sterner examination on Wednesday, with inspirational coach Jimmy Stonehouse often boasting the ability to bring the best out of his largely unheralded players.

Easterby acknowledged that they certainly didn’t expect things to get any easier as the tour progressed, but admitted there would be an intent to provide some new players with an opportunity before the final Toyota Challenge clash against the Cheetahs.

“Fingers crossed we came through the (Griquas) game pretty well (in terms of injuries). I’m sure the guys will be pretty sore afterwards, so we’ll recover well and then we’ll train again from Sunday. We’ll certainly look to get everyone in the touring party involved by the end of Wednesday’s game.

“The Pumas won the Currie Cup, so they’ll present a step up, and I’m sure the Cheetahs will as well. We just have to continue with the same work ethic and attitude we’ve shown so far, and then we’ll be fine. Players are connecting with each other and if they display the same type of intent and physicality that you need in South Africa, and the smarts as well, then I expect we’ll perform really well again on Wednesday with what might be a new-look team.” 

Remaining Emerging Ireland Toyota Challenge 2022 Fixtures:

Pumas v Emerging Ireland, Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein Wednesday, October 5, kick-off 5pm local time/4pm Irish time 

Cheetahs v Emerging Ireland, Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein Sunday, October 9, kick-off 3pm local time/2pm Irish time

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