Phil Rice looks at the young stars that Joe Schmidt could have available to him should he choose to play them
After the high expectations for Ireland in the recent World Cup and the disappointment as they exited at the quarter-final stage yet again, Irish rugby has been a bit in the doldrums over the past few months.
The early exits from the European Champions Cup for the Irish provinces hasn’t helped the mood.
But amongst all the doom and gloom a new group of talented players has been emerging for the provinces this season.
The development of these rising stars received enhanced publicity last week when Leinster Coach Leo Cullen threw caution to the wind and gave six of these fledglings their first starts in the European Champions Cup.
Cullen was rewarded by an outstanding display from his young bloods, defeating a strong Bath side laced with international players.
I have assembled a team of players below, all of whom with the exception of Jack McGrath (26) are aged 25 or below. The prospect of this team developing over the next four years in preparation for the next World Cup should dispel any fears for the future of the game in Ireland.
Some of these players are already established internationals and there are many observers who are calling for a number of the others to be included this year.
But Schmidt is both loyal to his current players and cautious about throwing relatively untested talent into the international arena. Much will depend on how the national team perform in the early Six Nation games.
If Ireland lose the first couple of games Schmidt may decide to blood some of the uncapped players with a view to them getting experience before taking them on tour to South Africa in the summer.
With Conor Murray and Ian Madigan also only 26, the quality of players likely to be in contention in 2019 will be exceptional.
This group represents a formidable team already but they will all improve during the next four years, something for Irish rugby fans to really look forward to.
It is important that these young players remain playing in Ireland for the provinces.
The recent trend for young players such as Marty Moore, JJ Hanrahan, James Cronin and Ian Madigan moving to the English Premiership and French Top14 sides, needs to be stopped.
Apart from the importance of developing with their peer group in Ireland, the physical demands of the leagues in England and France are significantly greater and these players can do without that wear and tear.
With the import of some carefully selected overseas players to add to these home bred players, there is no reason why the provinces shouldn’t be restored to the top of the European tree in the near future.
There is every reason to believe that this year will be a blip in the fortunes of the Irish sides in the European Champions Cup.
Joe Schmidt’s 6 Nations Squad Round 1 & 2
Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) (c)
Sean Cronin (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
James Cronin (Dolphin/Munster)
Ultan Dillane (Corinthians/Connacht)*
Tadhg Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster)
Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster) (vc)
Rob Herring (Ballynahinch/Ulster) Mike McCarthy (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)
Martin Moore (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Sean O’Brien (UCD/Leinster)
Tommy O’Donnell (UL Bohemians/Munster)
Rhys Ruddock (St Mary’s College/Leinster)
Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster)
CJ Stander (Munster)*
Richardt Strauss (Old Wesley/Leinster)
Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Josh van der Flier (UCD/Leinster)*
Nathan White (Connacht)
Keith Earls (Young Munster/Munster)
Luke Fitzgerald (Blackrock College/Leinster)
Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Connacht)
Paddy Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster)
David Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Rob Kearney (UCD/Leinster)
Ian Madigan (Blackrock College/Leinster)
Kieran Marmion (Corinthians/Connacht)
Luke Marshall (Ballymena/Ulster)
Stuart McCloskey (Ballynahinch/Ulster)*
Conor Murray (Garryowen/Munster)
Jared Payne (Ulster)
Eoin Reddan (Lansdowne/Leinster)
Jonathan Sexton (St Mary’s College/Leinster)
Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster)
Simon Zebo (Cork Con/Munster)
*Denotes uncapped player
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