Ireland's future Lions face 13 Test matches in gruelling 2020/21 season
Ireland's top players will have to be managed carefully.
A lot of the talk about sporting fixtures and events affected by the Coronavirus outbreak include the term, 'When this is all over'. We can only hope that the pandemic does not stretch on indefinitely and that the spread can be controlled while the search for answers, and cures, continues.
The likelihood is that all major sporting events will take a hit over the coming days, weeks and months. The men's and women's Republic of Ireland senior teams will be playing their Euro qualifiers behind closed doors and the Premier League, today, postponed Manchester City's encounter with Arsenal.
The 2020 Guinness Six Nations has already been hit with three match cancellations and the nations involved have been briefed on contingency plans to complete the championship in late October. The plan involves France vs. Ireland and England vs. Italy taking place on Saturday, October 31 with Ireland taking on Italy on October 24.
Assuming the Coronavirus outbreak is under control, or the situation has abated, it makes for a jam-packed and intense 2020/21 season for Ireland's best players.
The start date for the 2020/21 northern hemisphere season is set to be September 12 and, due to the British & Irish Lions touring South Africa next summer, it will not end until August 7, 2021. The elite players from Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland will embark on an 11-month playing season and that is without six to seven weeks of pre-season training.
For Irish players, their workload will be larger than the other nations due to the fact that they have that Italy game to make up. Should the October games be locked in, this is what Ireland are facing:
- vs. Italy (H), October 24
- vs. France (A), October 31
- vs. Australia (H), November 7
- vs. South Africa (H), November 14
- vs. Japan (H), November 21
- vs. Wales (A), February 7
- vs. France (H), February 14
- vs. Italy (A), February 27
- vs. Scotland (A), March 14
- vs. England (H), March 20
10 Test matches in just under five months and plenty of big Champions Cup dates and Guinness PRO14 fixtures in between. The end of the season will see Andy Farrell taking Ireland on tour, most likely to take on a tier two nation, while the pick of Irish players will go to South Africa with Warren Gatland's Lions squad.
That Lions tour comprises of eight games [down from 10 in 2017] with the three Test series beginning in late July. For any Irish player fortunate enough to make the Test squads, that could be 13 Test match involvements in nine months. Add in at least six Champions Cup fixtures and seven or eight league appearances and we're up to late 20s in terms of appearances, not to mention all the training and travelling too.
Looking at the current Ireland squad, some 16 months out from the start of that Test Series, our pick of the players best placed for a spot in Gatland's match-day 23 would be Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan and Johnny Sexton. The likes of Conor Murray, Jacob Stockdale, Jordan Larmour and even an exciting prospect like Ryan Baird could also be in the running.
A lot of water will pass under the bridge before that and, as Lions tours have shown in the past, there could be a few bolters that take the world by storm when they get the opportunity.
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Barry Murphy and Andrew Trimble are joined in the House of Rugby studio by former Munster winger and international referee John Lacey. They talk 2020 Guinness Six Nations contingency plans, the red card flash-points and the best type of rugby captains.