Thursday, May 14, 2015

Emerging Ireland Tour 2015 – The Tblisi Cup

In his latest piece Kevin O'Brien looks ahead to 
Emerging Ireland's upcoming Georgian adventure


The Tblisi Cup, takes place from June 13th to June 21st, & provides an Emerging Irish selection with games against Emerging Italy (13/06), Uruguay (17/06) with a final game against the hosts, Georgia (21/06).

Here we are again at the culmination of another season of rugby. From a club perspective it’s been a very disappointing one for this Leinster fan. Still there is plenty to play for, for the other three provinces and also for the any player who wants to catch the eye of Joe Schmidt in this world cup year. Thus the remaining Pro 12 games and the participation of an “Emerging Ireland” team in the Tblisi Cup can be seen as an important step in the Ireland management’s preparation for the World Cup. It can give players one last chance to come into the discussion re places in the world cup squad.

It would be fair to say that a considerable number of places in the world cup squad are, barring injuries, taken already.  We all know the names so there is no need to go into them here. However there still could be places up for grabs for a “bolter” perhaps or players coming back from injury like Donncha Ryan or Rhys Ruddock to force their way into contention. Given this I’ve put together a team of players I feel would benefit from getting game time and from impressing in the Tblisi Cup. Of course not every player picked will be in world cup contention. Others are selected on the back of strong performances for their provinces and are deserving of international recognition. The hope being performing in this tournament will give them international experience and help with their ongoing growth as well as the further development of squad depth. With this in mind here is a selection of players I would like to see involved in the competition.

1 Denis Buckley – Is there a more improved prop playing in any of the provinces this year? Not in my mind. Buckley was deservedly picked on the P12 “Dream team” and has been very impressive in all aspects of his play this year.  An improved scrummager with high energy levels as indicated by the amount of game time he’s had this season. He also proved to be effective at the breakdown. A strong performance can see him, deservedly in my mind, jump ahead of Kilcoyne & Cronin in the loosehead pecking order. A potential bolter.

2 Duncan Casey – Another who has shown strong development this season. There has been a clamour from some of our friends down South for Casey to be more involved in senior set up. These calls are not without merit given the consistent displays from Casey. Joe has tended to pick Strauss as his third Hooker. I feel his form has been very erratic and he has not reached the levels he had pre his injury problems. A strong showing from Casey could put Strauss under real pressure.

3 Tadhg Furlong – A consistent performer for Leinster this season and unlike many of the Blues players he can be very satisfied with his contribution. This World Cup may be too early for him. However with Moore & White currently injured he may come into consideration if their recoveries don’t go according to plan. 

4 Donncha Ryan – It’s great to see him back in Munster’s team. We all know his qualities and if he is fully fit he has to be in Joe’s mind. His inclusion in this squad will get him more game time following his lengthy injury lay off and will give the Irish coaches a good chance to assess him at close hand. A fully fit Ryan is in my World Cup squad.

5 Aly Muldowney – The now Irish Qualified lock has been an impressive performer for Connacht all season. He might be well down the pecking order in terms of the Irish Squad but it’s worth having him involved to see what he has to offer.  In addition the coaching staff are familiar with most of the other options such as Mike McCarthy or the injured oley. Inclusion in the Emerging Squad is also well deserved for a very strong season.

6 Rhys Ruddock (C)  – He was the (back row) man of the moment in the clean sweep during the Autumn series playing in the unfamiliar role of 7. He suffered an unfortunate injury before the Six Nations and now finds himself back down the pecking order in one of the most competitive areas in the squad. He needs to prove his fitness firstly and then perform strongly to remind Joe of his talents. Has considerable ground to make up though due to the form of others.

7 Dominic Ryan – A long shot for the World Cup squad perhaps. When the first choice Leinster backrow players are available it’s Ryan who makes way. It’s unlikely to be any different for Ireland. Still he has had a solid season for Leinster and is deserving of a spot here. 

8 Jack Conan – Leinster’s young player of the season & a Wolfhound in his breakthrough season.  A place in this squad will help further his growth as a potential full international.

9 Kieran Marmion – For me he is a quality player and on form I’d have him in the world cup squad. However I feel his performance levels have dipped a bit probably since the Wolfhounds game and it seems he has some ground to make up. A couple of strong performances on this tour could provide a good reminder of his talents.

10 Paddy Jackson – It’s true to say he is on fire at the moment putting in a string of consistently impressive performances for Ulster. The position of back up 10 to Sexton is by no means set with both Keatley and Madigan filling the position for the 6 Nations, which Jackson unfortunately missed through injury. His form since his return has me and many others excited as he finally seems to starting to fulfil his massive potential. A good performance or two on this tour can only enhance his chances of not only WC squad selection but also push his inclusion in a match day 23.

11 Craig Gilroy – Top scorer in the Pro12 and in scintillating form. It appears that he has some ground to make up given his lack of involvement in the 6 Nations. A great finisher who is really pushing hard for consideration. He’s probably one I would take to England.

12 Stuart McCloskey – is being touted in some quarters as a potential bolter such is his form for Ulster. The physically imposing and deceptively skilful player is undoubtedly one for the future is he continues to develop as he has done so far. 

13 Darren Cave – The perpetually “trying to prove himself” to Irish coaches Cave is another who has been in great form all season. Perhaps he is unlucky not to be more involved in the senior squad. Perhaps as he said himself his face doesn’t fit. But again a strong showing in this tournament will remind Joe of his talents. 

14 Matt Healy – A standout performer for Connacht. Good finishing instincts and electric pace is a decent skill-set for a winger to have. Inclusion here is just reward for a great season and will give Healy good exposure to the international set up.

15 Dave Kearney – unlucky with injury but his form has not been as strong as the previous season. He has fallen down the pecking order a bit and needs to perform well here to keep himself in Joe’s thoughts.

Replacements:
Rob Herring, Michael Bent, Stephen Archer, Alan O’Connor, Robbie Diack, Jack Carty, John Cooney, Tiernan O'Halloran.

In my view the selection of this Emerging Ireland squad perhaps will have a slightly different slant on it this year given it’s a World Cup year. Previously such a squad would certainly be a development squad with very few senior players involved. However, there are players who have it all to prove to Joe Schmidt and his coaching staff that they are worthy of inclusion for the main event. Some such as Ryan, Ruddock and Jackson are making up ground from injury plagued seasons and I’m sure the Irish management will be keen to observe them first hand. Others such as Buckley & Gilroy have had really strong seasons and have to come into the equation at squad selection time. The team I’ve selected above is reflective of this.

As it stands there is already a significant number of guys currently injured such as Healy, Fitzgerald, Moore, Cronin, McFadden, Foley and if more get injured or these guys don’t come back within expected timeframes the squad depth will be tested and it’s up to other to step up so I see this tour as a very important part of the World Cup preparations. So here’s to a good tournament and to no more injuries! COYBIG.

Kevin O’Brien (@marywards) : Rugby mad Leinster man exiled in Connaught. Father of 3 with wife who hates sport but tolerates rugby.

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