Eight young players best placed to make their Ireland debut this year
"We're on the World Cup countdown now."
As a young, up-and-coming or Irish-qualified player, the two years after a World Cup are usually the best opportunity to get that coveted Ireland debut, some Test minutes and stake one's claim for more.
In his first year as Ireland head coach - that disrupted, uncertain, bonkers 2020 - Andy Farrell handed out debuts to 11 players. He followed that up, last year, by giving Test bows to another 12.
What usually happens is that Ireland coaches, if they are in place most of a four-year World Cup window, are more parsimonious with the debuts as the big tournaments approach. The players in bold [below] ended up making the tournament squad.
- 2006 (Eddie O'Sullivan) - 7 PLAYERS: Eoin Reddan, Bryan Young, Jerry Flannery, Paddy Wallace, Luke Fitzgerald, Stephen Ferris, Jamie Heaslip
- 2010 (Declan Kidney) - 6 PLAYERS: Kevin McLaughlin, Dan Tuohy, John Fogarty, Chris Henry, Rhys Ruddock, Damien Varley
- 2018 (Joe Schmidt) - 5 PLAYERS: Jordan Larmour, Tadhg Beirne, Ross Byrne, Will Addison, Sammy Arnold
Andy Farrell forming his 2023 squad already
It is a small enough sample size - Warren Gatland, O'Sullivan, Kidney and Schmidt all came in during World Cup windows - but it gives you an idea of how chances to impress are not that fulsome.
If he makes it to next years's World Cup [and he should], Andy Farrell will be the first Ireland head coach to get a full four-year cycle before his first crack at the tournament. Looking at the squad he selected for the Autumn Nations Cup, Farrell looks to already have a clear idea ahead of the final 18 months ahead of the World Cup.
However, there is still a chance for some young, and recently arrived, talents to get a taste of Test action in the coming months. We have selected eight of the likeliest lads for Ireland debuts over the course of 2022.
Eight players best placed to make their Ireland debut
The first player on our list of Test debut prospects is Thomas Ahern [pictured above]. Turning 22 next month and still early into his professional career with Munster, but on the right track for Ireland. May have to wait until later in the year, but could find himself in a touring squad to New Zealand if Farrell wants some fresh faces, even fo the experience.
Of all the areas in the Ireland squad where you could see lads getting a look in, over the course of the year, it is the back three. Hugo Keenan is our undoubted starter at fullback, but Farrell will want to look at someone else there for a game or two. 2022 may be too soon for Munster's Patrick Campbell, but he is now on the radar.
On the wings, two lads going well for the provinces, and possessing something slightly different to what we already have, are Ulster's Ethan McIlroy and Mack Hansen of Connacht.
Midfield is a virtual traffic jam of talent. Right now, we actually have fans across he land debating whether or not James Hume has done enough to leapfrog Chris Farrell and Stuart McCloskey to be Ireland's FOURTH CHOICE centre. It is that stacked. If anyone could nip in there for Test minutes, though, it looks to be Leinster's Ciarán Frawley, especially if he gets more Champions Cup outings.
Most of us now are coming around to the notion that Johnny Sexton, if he gets the rub of the green, will be Ireland's starting outhalf at the 2023 World Cup. There will be recriminations if Ireland don't get beyond the quarter finals, but Sexton in good touch is the best option for Farrell's team.
One possible debut could be at outhalf if Farrell does want to look at other options. Harry Byrne needs to push into a regular starting slot for Leinster, in big games even, but we could see a Munster No.10 in green if that does not happen. Jack Crowley could yet get the jump on him, but a strong few months may see Ben Healy called up at some stage. A guy with that kicking range, and confidence, gives you other attacking options.
We have plenty of quality scrum-halves in Ireland right now but one lad that impressed a lot, having been tipped a couple of years out, is Nathan Doak. Tall, clued-in, self-assured and a goal-kicking option. Should see more game-time for Ulster as John Cooney has hamstring issues this season.
The way Leinster coach Robin McBryde talks about young tighthead Tom Clarkson, you would be wise to keep a close eye on him. Having come up under Tadhg Furlong and Andrew Porter, he now has Michael Ala'alatoa to dice with but could be the longer term back-up option for Furlong in the Irish set-up.
Staying in the front row, we have been keeping track of Josh Wycherley ever since he starred on his first European start for Munster against Clermont at Stade Marcel Michelin, no less. Dave Kilcoyne is the immediate road-block at Munster, but Wycherley is capable of getting a Test look-in with more provincial experience tucked under the shorts elastic.
Our last pick stretches the 'young' bracket to its' limit, but we are sure he will forgive us. Conor Oliver is 26 now and a run of fitness has resulted in a run of form in the Connacht back row. Would be going up against Leinster's Will Connors and Josh van der Flier, and Peter O'Mahony would have designs on the next World Cup, but is definitely worth giving a chance to impress in training camp.
If you are determined to hold us to the 'eight young players' promise, Munster back-row Alex Kendellen is our outside shout for an Ireland debut in the not too distant future.
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