James Cronin and Stephen Archer will get their opportunity to show national coach Joe Schmidt that they can be relied upon for the World Cup after both Munster props were selected for the Emerging Ireland squad.
The team, a Wolfhounds set-up in all but name, will play three games in the Tbilisi Cup next month against Emerging Italy (June 13), Uruguay (June 17) and hosts Georgia (June 21).
This is the third year that an Emerging Ireland set-up has headed east for summer duty having first participated in Tbilisi Cup in 2013 and then last year they travelled to Romania for the Nations Cup.
However, rather than providing a jaunt for those confined to the lower rungs of the international depth chart, this year’s expedition could uncover a bolter or two for the World Cup.
Of the 27-man panel, only Leinster’s Rhys Ruddock could be genuinely disappointed to miss out on World Cup selection should he prove his fitness, but for the likes of Cronin, Archer, Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey, Connacht’s Denis Buckley and Leinster’s Noel Reid, there is a genuine opportunity at hand.
Firstly, loosehead Cronin and tighthead Archer are already capped and while they are able to build up form and momentum, two of their direct rivals, Leinster pair Marty Moore and Cian Healy, are recovering from their time on the surgeon’s slab.
Moore has recently undergone his second shoulder surgery in less than a year while Healy was also required to go under the knife over a week ago to address a neck issue.
The uncapped Buckley may also be in the mix having been nominated for the Guinness Pro12 Young player of the Year Award for his efforts this season where he started 21 of 22 league games at loosehead.
Reid, who made his Test debut in Argentina last summer, and McCloskey are potential bolters in their potential to offer something different at inside centre.
The No. 12 shirt has been welded onto Robbie Henshaw but in the case of injury Schmidt has previously looked to Luke Marshall, Ian Madigan and Gordon D’Arcy. However, between injury, physicality and form, respectively, none of that trio offer any guarantees, which is why Reid and McCloskey could stick their hands up. Reid has shown flashes of his potential as a playmaker while McCloskey has been a real find for Ulster this season.
Two eye-catching inclusions from the Irish management are Leinster and Lansdowne’s Cian Kelleher and Munster and Dolphin’s Rory Scannell. The pair were nominated for the Ulster Bank League Rising Star award in Division 1A and while winner Kelleher made his provincial debut last weekend, Scannell has already impressed at out-half and centre for Munster this season. There are also places in the 27-man squad for exiles Eoin Griffin of London Irish and the Northampton-bound JJ Hanrahan.
Ulster forwards coach Allen Clarke and Leinster academy manager Girvan Dempsey will lead the tour which will include afternoon kick-off times friendly to Irish audiences.
Meanwhile, Limerick man Cian Aherne was one of 26 players yesterday named in the IRFU’s Sevens squad which will attempt to qualify for the Rio Olympics next year.
The Irish side will have to qualify from a Division C tournament held in Bosnia on June 6/7 and then win the Division B competition on June 20/21 in Croatia where the winner goes on to Portugal in July to compete in Europe’s Olympic Repechage Tournament. Even still, the winner to come out of Lisbon will have to compete in the World Repechage for just one berth in Rio.
However, Aherne believes that Ireland have the talent which features a nice blend of ability from the provincial academies and the Ulster Bank League to overcome their lack of experience.
“Any of the goals are achievable it’s just about whether we can adapt to the steep learning curve,” said the winger, who has played for UCD, UL Bohemian and recently won a league title with Lansdowne.
“We have the coaching staff in Anthony Eddy and David Nucifora that have done it with Australia so we have the basic skillsets and physical capacities but it just depends on how we cope against the more established teams.”
Former Munster and Connacht back row Eoghan Grace is the only survivor from the last IRFU Sevens squad which competed at the 2009 World Cup while Young Munster’s Diarmuid McCarthy has also been included as his rugby career begins to thrive again.
The goal of becoming a member of the World Rugby Sevens circuit by 2017 is certainly more attainable than the Olympics and with news that all four provinces will compete in the World Club Sevens event at Thomond Park this August, it appears Irish rugby’s courtship of Sevens is only just beginning.
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