Ireland's summer tour will see them take on world champions South Africa
The Boks re-set the clock in Paris and are world champions until the big show rolls around, again, in Australia.
The new Nations Cup will officially get underway in 2026, the year after the Lions travel to Australia and the year before the next World Cup. Before all that, Ireland will get a chance to test themselves against the world champions.
With Andy Farrell the prohibitive favourite to land the Lions job - we believe the job is already his for the taking - this jaunt would likely serve as his final games in charge of Ireland before he heads down the sabbatical route. A lot will be riding on the results as the Boks will be eager to re-assert their position as best in the world, gain revenge for a pool stage defeat, and Farrell will want to step away on a high.
As The Sunday Times first reported, earlier this year, the 2024 summer tours were settled upon when all the unions met to start discussing the frame-work for what we now know as the Nations Cup.
Ireland may only play two Tests against South Africa as the agreement was not to load a three-Test series on to the end of a World Cup year. Even with that, Ireland would end up playing 16 Test matches in the 2023/24 season. England, who reached the World Cup semi-finals, would play 18 Tests in the season.
Also part of the summer 2024 tours will be Wales versus Australia, England taking on New Zealand and France facing off against Argentina. Scotland would take on two nations from the Pacific Islands while Italy would play the USA and Canada. There is a possibility that some unions may look to arrange an additional match outside the agreed upon 'window' that would incorporate two games.
From 2026, the Six Nations and Rugby Championship will both be played in March and April, the club season will end later (around June) and the next Test window will be for Nations Cup sides from both hemispheres.
Six uncapped players that could feature on South Africa tour
Following Ireland's quarter final exit at the 2023 World Cup, we had a look at a match-day squad Andy Farrell could potentially select for the first game of the 2024 Six Nations.
Johnny Sexton and Keith Earls have hung up their boots, but the likes of Peter O'Mahony, Cian Healy, Dave Kilcoyne and Conor Murray look to be sticking around. Farrell will be keenly aware of the need to slowly filter in new faces while keeping standards high, and results positive.
Still, that tour to South Africa represents a great opportunity to give younger players a blood and thunder introduction to Test rugby. The Springboks will not play a Test match again until that tour, unless Rassie Erasmus finds a nation (like Georgia or Portugal) for a warm-up.
The Boks were been keen to defend their World No.1 status while Ireland will look to go one better than the last tour, in 2016, and claim their first ever series win in South Africa.
What may improve the chances of several younger, uncapped players heading on tour would be the academy games being planned between a combined Irish side and the likes of Benetton and Zebre, this December. The IRFU may also explore the possibility of bringing a wider squad of players, next summer, so an Emerging Ireland or Ireland 'A' side could take on a South Africa 'A'.
Here are six players we feel could be included on that tour, should they have good seasons with their provinces and get a taste of Ireland camp during the Six Nations:
Brian Gleeson (Munster)
The Irish back row has pretty much picking three from four (O'Mahony, van der Flier, Doris and Conan) this past two years, and some new blood, or competition at least, would be welcomed. Simon Zebo and Stephen Ferris have already identified him as a guy to watch closely, he was excellent for Ireland U20s and Graham Rowntree really likes what he sees. Would be asking a lot for him to make an end-of-season tour at such a young age (19) but he looks to have many of the tools needed to be a solid Test player.
Paddy McCarthy (Leinster)
Another player from the most recent U20s that we are looking to fast-track, mainly because he looks a real talent and Ireland needs loosehead options. Healy and Kilcoyne have 70 years on them, combined, and Andrew Porter is being asked to carry a lot of water. McCarthy only made his Leinster debut, last month, but word from those in and around Leinster is he already looks at home around the senior stars. Not expecting immediate Test match minutes, but one to bring in and get up to speed.
Paddy Campbell (Munster)
The former Cork minor footballing star made his senior debut against Wasps in that infamous Champions Cup game that came about when half the senior squad got blighted with Covid, in South Africa. Has experience at outhalf but can also play wing and fullback. Has a real spark about him. Would be a very handy back three option for Ireland if he can push on again this season.
Alex Kendellen (Munster)
While folks are getting gee-ed up about Gleeson and Ruadhán Quinn, Munster have a future captain in Kendellen. Still only 22, the Cork native is fast approaching 50 senior caps and played a significant role in that final push, last season, that turned Munster from Champions Cup qualification outsiders to URC champions. Spoken of highly by so many at Munster, he can play openside and No.8.
Nathan Doak (Ulster)
Ireland's main goal-kicker, in the future, could well be a scrumhalf. The Ulster 9 looked on a fast-track to national team selection until he, and Ulster, had some set-backs in 2022/23. Has started the season well, looks in the Conor Murray mold and has a solid temperament.
Sam Prendergast (Leinster)
This selection depends on a couple of key factors - the young outhalf getting a decent haul of minutes for Leinster and showing up against top sides, and Andy Farrell moving on from at least one Byrne as he plots the years ahead. Prendergast has stacks of potential and looked unfazed in his five senior outings, to date. Still only 19 so best to give him time, but could benefit from being brought into camp to aid with a future, full call-up.
Our wildcard selection is a lad who is 28 so not exactly a young gun, like those above. Tadhg Beirne may yet move into the Ireland back row, from next year on, but we still feel Connacht's Conor Oliver is worth a shot. The Dubliner has enjoyed a new lease of life since joining Connacht in 2020 and adds that real dog to any back row unit.
The temptation may be to go with the younger lads - such as Ryan Baird and Cian Prendergast - but Oliver can make his case with another strong season out West.
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