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14th May 2018

Eight uncapped players that could make their debut on Ireland’s tour of Australia

Jack O'Toole

Ireland are Grand Slam winners, Leinster are European champions and we’ll have at least one Irish province in the PRO14 final. Irish Rugby is in a good space.

Leinster will be aiming for a historic double later this month to add to their Champions Cup win while Munster will be desperate to finish their season with some silverware after an appalling performance against Racing in Bordeaux last month.

The provinces are very much the focus at present but less than a month from now Ireland will head to Australia for a three-test tour against the Wallabies and our attention will switch back to the national team.

Last year, Schmidt was preparing for a three-test tour of Japan and the USA and here’s some of the players that made their Ireland debuts on that tour – James Ryan, Jacob Stockdale, Andrew Porter, Dave Heffernan, Rory Scannell, Rory O’Loughlin, John Cooney and Kieran Treadwell.

Some players went on to become pivotal cogs in Ireland’s Grand Slam run, others have failed to feature since, and while last summer’s British & Irish Lions tour created some opportunities that may not have otherwise existed for certain players, this summer’s tour of Australia gives Schmidt another opportunity to add some new players to the national setup as Ireland begin their early preparation for next year’s Rugby World Cup.

Eight players made their international debuts last summer and here’s eight players that we think could make the step up to international rugby next month.

Tadhg Beirne

Tadhg Beirne

Tadhg Beirne shouldn’t really even be on this list.

Not because of his talent or his ability, but because he should have been capped in the Six Nations.

Schmidt said at the time that his omission from the Ireland squad was due to the amount of minutes that he had played for Scarlets and his uncertain availability during rest weeks, but on the evidence of his performances this season, he probably should have played anyway and is a no-brainer to make his Ireland debut this summer.

A tantalising partnership with James Ryan awaits.

Potential squad locks: James Ryan, Devin Toner, Iain Henderson, Tadhg Beirne.

Tom Farrell 

Connacht’s 2017/18 fans player of the year and deservedly so.

Farrell was one the westerners few bright spots in what has been an otherwise tumultuous season for the club.

The former Leinster Academy product joined the province last year after spending some time with English Championship club the Bedford Blues.

He was drafted into Connacht as emergency cover for an injury crisis at the club and less than 18 months later and he’s one of the province’s best players.

With six tries in 21 games this season he’s shown that he knows his way to the try line, and with Chris Farrell out for the forseeable future with an ACL tear, namesake Tom would be a good option to bring in behind Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw.

Potential squad centres: Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Tom Farrell/Sam Arnold/Rory Scannell.

Ross Byrne 

Johnny Sexton and Joey Carbery are the undisputed first and second-choice fly-halves under Joe Schmidt but there’s no harm in nailing down a third player at the position given the frailty of the former and the uncertainty surrounding the latter.

Ian Keatley has largely filled that void with the departures of Paddy Jackson and Ian Madigan from Irish Rugby in recent seasons and it was Keatley that was called onto the bench for Ireland’s final November international with Argentina while Carbery was recovering from a broken arm.

At 31, Keatley is resigned to the fact that his international career will largely be spent on the fringes, and maybe Ross Byrne will follow a similar trajectory in years to come, but at 23-years-old it’s too early to make that determination so why not see what he has to offer? If Keatley is the alternative, is there really any harm in rolling the dice with Byrne?

Leo Cullen often preferred him to Carbery during the season for Leinster, and while Australia would be a significant step up from the caliber of opposition he’s played in the PRO14, there’s not an awful lot of alternatives to Keatley or Carbery for Schmidt.

Byrne started 18 games for Leinster this season and acquitted himself well when he was called upon. He’s unlikely to alter the fly-half pecking order in the national ranks but there’s little harm in seeing what he has to offer in one of the thinner positions in Irish Rugby at present.

Potential squad fly-halves: Johnny Sexton, Joey Carbery, Ross Byrne.

Sam Arnold 

Unless one of Henshaw, Ringrose or Aki are given the summer off by Joe Schmidt, it’s likely that the fourth centre spot on this tour will fall to either Farrell, Rory Scannell or Sam Arnold.

Arnold was fortunate this season in that he was able to capitalise off the misfortune of others with the Munster centre registering 18 appearances in midfield in the absence of the injured Chris Farrell and Jaco Taute.

An aggressive, abrasive centre, Arnold’s intensity has been a nice blend to Scannell’s more nuanced approach and maybe Schmidt warms to him as a player that has a possible future in international rugby.

At 22, he still has a lot to work on, but a summer spent with Schmidt could see him make a leap next season after an impressive campaign with Munster this season.

Potential squad centres: Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Tom Farrell/Sam Arnold/Rory Scannell.

Nick Timoney 

With Josh van der Flier and Sean O’Brien both sidelined maybe there’s an opportunity for Ulster backrow Nick Timoney or Leinster number eight Max Deegan to earn a spot on the plane to Australia.

There’s no shortage of quality backrows in Irish Rugby and Jack O’Donoghue, Jack Conan, Jordi Murphy, Dan Leavy, CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony should provide plenty of competition for places, but if Schmidt does decide to rest O’Mahony or Stander after long seasons, Timoney would be a great replacement.

The 22-year-old, who is adept at both flanker and number eight, scooped Ulster’s Academy Player of the Year award and also the Young Player of the Year award after a breakthrough campaign where he scored five tries in his 19 appearances for the senior squad.

Even more impressively for a backrower, he averaged over 11 tackles a game and picked up over 25 metres per game.

Ireland have no shortage of quality options at openside or the back of the scrum but maybe Timoney gets a chance to show he can step up to the next level after impressing many on a domestic front.

Potential squad backrowers: Dan Leavy, Jordi Murphy, Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander, Jack Conan, Jack O’Donoghue/Nick Timoney.

Alex Wootton

Joe Schmidt took six wingers on Ireland’s 2016 tour of South Africa so there’s no reason to think that he won’t try something similar this summer in Australia.

Wootton has enjoyed a breakout season for Munster and has scored eight tries in 16 games. He also leads Munster in carries, metres, defenders beaten, clean breaks and offloads in the PRO14.

Munster head coach Johann van Graan selected him to start over Simon Zebo in the Champions Cup semi-final loss to Racing last month, a questionable decision in hindsight, but a telling sign of faith from a coach that has made tremendous strides since arriving on these shores last year.

Much like the backrow, Ireland have no shortage of wingers, but if Darren Sweetnam and Adam Byrne were both able to win their first caps in November, there’s no reason to think Wootton can’t earn his first call up in the summer.

Potential squad wingers: Jacob Stockdale, Andrew Conway, Keith Earls, Jordan Larmour, Alex Wootton, Barry Daly

Barry Daly

Stuck behind the logjam of wingers at Leinster, opportunities have been limited for Barry Daly this season.

With James Lowe, Jordan Larmour and Isa Nacewa all ahead of Daly in the pecking order it’s been difficult for him to receive a consistent run of games, but when he has seen time on the pitch, he’s produced, 13 tries in 16 games indicates as much.

It will be hard for Daly to establish himself as an international if he struggles to establish himself as a consistent choice at his own club but Schmidt is a fan and called him up to Ireland’s wider training squad earlier this season.

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen may have Daly buried in Leinster’s pecking order but as long as Schmidt is keeping an eye on him that’s all he may need to earn a tour spot.

Seven tries in his last nine games may also go some way to getting him on that plane.

Denis Buckley

The Leinster quartet of Tadhg Furlong, Andrew Porter, Cian Healy and Jack McGrath have had a stranglehold over the Irish front-row this season and there’s nothing to suggest that will change anytime soon.

It’s a bit of a scramble after that with James Cronin, David Kilcoyne, John Ryan and Finlay Bealham all winning caps here and there but Denis Buckley is not even in that bracket.

He resisted the temptation to move to the Premiership last summer to stay with Connacht and keep his goal of playing for Ireland alive, and while he won’t start or be on the bench when Ireland are at full strength, maybe he’s done enough to earn a seat on the plane to Australia.

Buckley has performed admirably for Connacht this season but he shone against Leinster last month and gave Porter a bit of working over in the scrums.

Schmidt will have taken note and Buckley is worth a shot given the relative gap between McGrath and Healy and the rest of the competition.

Potential squad props: Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong, Andrew Porter, Jack McGrath, Denis Buckley.

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