10 uncapped prospects that could transform Ireland in 2020
Joe Schmidt, Rory Best and Greg Feek are all gone.
Rob Kearney may be the next man to follow that trio out the Ireland 'exit' door after 13 seasons of service for the national team. Sean Cronin will be 37 by the time the next World Cup rolls into France.
There is always a period of change after World Cup campaigns. Even if the head coach and his staff remain on, members of the playing staff or backroom may push on for pastures new or be finished with their country.
The 2019 World Cup was supposed to be the culmination of this current Ireland squad's hard work over the past four years. Instead, the class of 2019 went no further than any of their predecessors as they were thoroughly beaten and dispatched of by a rampant All Blacks side.
Andy Farrell is taking over from Schmidt as head coach and has brought in former England back Mike Catt to run the Irish attack. Outgoing Leinster scrum coach John Fogarty will take over from Feek and both Simon Easterby (forwards) and Richie Murphy (kicking and skills) will remain.
The make-up of Ireland's squad for the 2020 Six Nations will tell us a lot on where Farrell sees this Irish side going, for the short-term at least. Expect big changes but several senior stars will be retained.
On the latest episode of Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby, Andrew Trimble and Jerry Flannery discussed [from 51:00 below] the potential for Farrell's first Six Nations as top dog.
"You just look at the age profile of this Ireland squad [10 players over 30]," says Flannery, "and some lads are going to get their opportunity and there will obviously be opportunities at hooker, with Rory stepped out.
"The obvious guys would be Niall Scannell, Rob Herring and Sean Cronin, who has been in the mix for so long that you'd have to wonder - is he going to push in ahead of Scannell? Is RHYS MARSHALL going to come into the mix. Who else is knocking around there? You have young lads like RONÁN KELLEHER and ED BYRNE at Leinster, and James Tracy is there too.
"There's no heir apparent that you'd definitely say is going to step in. It's probably Niall Scannell at the moment. His fundamentals are good."
In the second row, Flannery has been underwhelmed by Iain Henderson at this World Cup. The Ulster lock had one of his best ever games for Ireland against Scotland but failed to back it up.
Farrell has a big decision to make about going forward with the Henderson and James Ryan second row combination. The other options, right now, appear to be Jean Kleyn and Tadhg Beirne. Flannery believes FINEEN WYCHERLEY (21) and RYAN BAIRD (20) are worth keeping a close eye on while Trimble has a suggestion from out West - Ultan Dillane.
"He could possibly get back in the mix," says Flannery, "he had some big seasons, not so long ago, for Connacht. He's a good carrier. There's a few edges to his game you could knock off and he seems to have a good work ethic."
Moving to the back row, the big hope is that Dan Leavy gets back and returns to the sort of form that made him one of Europe's best flankers for a thunderous two-year spell. Trimble likes the looks of SCOTT PENNY and Flannery agrees:
"Penny is like a man-child, when I watch him play, with how powerful he is as a ball-carrier. You'd ideally also have him in the mix, along with Josh van der Flier and Dan Leavy."
Flannery, who just finished up a coaching stint with Munster, believes Ireland's pressing need is for footballing players. Guys who are very good at the basics but who have the ability to think on the fly, add wrinkles to their game and take the fight to the opposition.
"Remember when Denis Leamy played [for Munster and Ireland]? Leamy was a good athlete but he was a phenomenal footballer. That was the difference and that is what made him stand-out. It's about getting guys that can stand flat on the line and pass the ball. People with good catch-pass skills."
Looking at the Irish backline, Flannery says the key man here will be Joey Carbery while Munster's versatile SHANE DALY 'could come into the mix'. Where Jordan Larmour features, when he returns to Leinster duty, will be interesting too. He could move into the 15 jersey or be deployed on the wing.
"I watched a bit of HUGO KEENAN at 15 in Leinster's last couple of [league] games," Flannery says, "and he looks a very elusive player. He can step in as a first receiver... I think [Ulster's] MICHAEL LOWRY is an absolute baller. I'm not sure what his best position is. Is he a 10? Could he be a George Ford type, where teams will go after him?
"That won't really matter. His strengths are his elusiveness and his foot-work. We played Ulster near the start of the year, at Thomond Park, and we pumped them. Next thing, this small guy comes on the field - this Hobbit with a scrum-cap - and I was nudging Felix [Jones] going 'Who the f*** is this guy?' He was like an electron, just flying around the field... He's Cheslin Kolbe! That's what he's like."
Leinster JAMES LOWE qualifies for Ireland ahead of the 2020 November Series and Trimble feels he could bring an 'X factor' to any Andy Farrell-selected backline.
And there you have it. Eight uncapped prospects and two footballing Kiwis (Marshall & Lowe) that could add to Farrell's ranks as Irish rugby strikes out towards France 2023 next year.
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The latest episode sees Andrew Trimble and Jerry Flannery look back on Ireland's World Cup exit to New Zealand.