Joe Schmidt is today set to unveil his Ireland squad for next month’s Tests in the United States and Japan.
With 11 frontline players due to be absent on the British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand this summer, the players the Irish head coach names for the national team’s tour will be given the opportunity to lay down long-term markers for a return visit to Japan at the 2019 World Cup.
Schmidt’s squad, set to be captained by regular vice-captain Jamie Heaslip, looks set to be a mix of senior players smarting at their omission from Warren Gatland’s touring party to take on the might of the world champion All Blacks in June and July, fringe players eager to build on their international involvements over the past 12 months and perhaps one or two newcomers desperate to get their Test careers under way.
Ireland will first travel to New Jersey to play John Mitchell’s USA Eagles at the Red Bull Arena on June 10 before moving on to Japan and two Tests against a Brave Blossoms side under the charge of another former All Black in Jamie Joseph.
With Ireland and Japan drawn together in the same World Cup 2019 pool a week ago, Schmidt’s men will get an early taste of the sort of conditions they could face in two year’s time when the tournament is played for the first time in Asia. The first Test is in Shizuoka on June 17 with the second a week later in Tokyo’s Ajinomoto Stadium.
“I think June is going to be very tough for us,” Schmidt said at last week’s draw, which, he added: “Will spark a real interest because people will want an entrée of what will be a main meal in two-and-a-bit years’ time.”
Billy Holland earned his Test debut in the second row against Canada last November and will be one of a number of Munster men hopeful of being given the chance to add to their international experience on tour this summer.
Holland, 31, has however been around long enough not to take anything for granted although he, like his provincial squad-mates, recognises that being part of a successful Munster team this season has been hugely beneficial.
“A couple of years ago you are looking to get into the Irish set-up, but I don’t think like that anymore,” Holland said. “The way you play for Ireland is by playing well for your province, starting for your province, playing well with your province and winning with your province.
“Unless you are doing all those three things you are not going to be involved. It is as simple as it. I have started many games this season and it has gone well for me. We’ve won 19 out of 22 games in the PRO12 this year.
“I think hopefully you will see a few fellas on that tour to the States and Japan during the summer, but look, Leinster have dominated the Irish squad over the past couple of years because they have dominated the PRO12 and the European competition. They have been the best Irish province over the past couple of years and still are.
“They will still have the majority of players on that tour, but I think we are on the right track at the moment, Munster.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved