A team from Emerging Ireland will travel to South Africa in less than a month with the aim of acclimatizing emerging talent to the Irish setup.
Simon Easterby will take charge of a 35-man squad in South Africa, where emerging Ireland take on Currie Cup trio Griquas, Pumas and Cheetahs over a 10-day period.
Those involved are expected to miss at least three rounds of URC action with their provinces, although the IRFU hope the tour will help build national team depth ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup.
None of Ireland’s first-choice players are expected to travel, with the squad likely made up of those who played against the Māori All Blacks in July and those who missed selection for the New Zealand tour.
We have identified five players absent in July who could play an important role for emerging Ireland in South Africa.
Leinster flanker Scott Penny was named by Ireland head coach Andy Farrell as unlucky to miss the national team for games against Japan and the United States last summer, and the 22-year-old years could finally have a chance in green this month.
Penny rarely puts in a disappointing performance for Leinster as he has scored a remarkable 23 tries in just 41 appearances for his province, a record most wingers would be jealous of.
He has been included in the 2020/21 Pro14 dream squad, although he had fewer chances to impress for Leinster last season and often doesn’t feature in his province’s matchday squad for crucial matches.
Still, he’s still young and has a lot of potential, and is a perfect fit for what Ireland are looking for on their mini-tour of South Africa.
🦵 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐤𝐢𝐜𝐤
👐 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐜𝐚𝐭𝐜𝐡
💥 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐟𝐢𝐧𝐢𝐬𝐡
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) May 22, 2022
Munster half-out Ben Healy may have been unlucky to miss the New Zealand tour, as compatriot number 10 Harry Byrne was selected ahead of him despite Leinster having little playing time this season last.
Healy frequently plays for Munster, and despite being behind Joey Carbery in the pecking order, he often looks like a more natural half-back than his provincial team-mate, who regularly played as a full-back earlier in his career.
At 23, Healy should be in no rush to win international honours, despite qualifying in Scotland and having been approached by Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend in the past.
Showing that Healy is in contention to earn caps for Ireland by bringing him to South Africa would be a smart move by the IRFU, as Scotland seek to snap up the Munster man’s services.
Although Ethan McIlroy may be less publicized than promising Ulster outside backs Robert Baloucoune and Mike Lowry, the 22-year-old is a very exciting prospect.
McIlroy has shown he is capable of rubbing shoulders with some of the best in the business in knockout matches for Ulster in the Heineken Champions Cup and URC and will be more than enough to take on Currie Cup sides in Africa from South.
Ireland have no shortage of quality wingers at the moment, although Keith Earls, Andrew Conway and James Lowe are all over 30 and may not have too many years of international rugby left in them.
The Ulster winger is certainly a player of the future and one who could work his way into Ireland’s consideration for next year’s Rugby World Cup.
While he would probably be a bit older than most players in emerging Ireland at the age of 26, Connacht’s Conor Oliver is steadily improving with each passing year.
The Skerries man found himself out of favor towards the end of his spell with Munster, although he revitalized his career with a move to Connacht in 2020.
Oliver has been a key player for Western Province for the past two seasons and has already expressed his international aspirations, although the back line is arguably the most competitive position in the Irish squad.
Having proven himself on many occasions for Connacht over the past two years, if he can impress in a different setup in South Africa it will give a significant boost to his hopes of playing for Ireland.
Another who may not have been lucky enough not to visit New Zealand this summer, as Josh Wycherley often started ahead of Jeremy Loughman for Munster last season but found himself behind his provincial team-mate in the pecking order of Ireland.
Loughman’s greater experience and age likely played a role in his selection ahead of Wycherley in July, although the 23-year-old is well suited for the mini-tour of South Africa.
Ireland aren’t awash with talent in loose support, and while Andrew Porter looks set to be the top choice for years to come, backup options Cian Healy and Dave Kilcoyne are nearing the end of their careers.
The position is expected to be a priority for IRFU as they aim to develop more depth for next year’s Rugby World Cup and beyond.
Find out more about: emerging Ireland, Irish rugby