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01st Jan 2017

These are the top young talents tipped to make a breakthrough in 2017

Ones to watch, closely

Patrick McCarry

Joe Schmidt handed out 18 Ireland debuts in 2016. We are looking at some of the young guns best placed to make a breakthrough in 2016.

By autumn 2017, Schmidt will have Bundee Aki and Tom McCartney to add to his ever-swelling ranks. Tyler Bleyendaal will become Irish qualified too. Jake Heenan is already free to play for Ireland.

Schmidt has introduced 35 players to Test rugby in three years and, with the 2019 World Cup in mind, will bring more into the fold in 2017. You may only see two or three new faces in the Six Nations but Ireland have two Tests away to a blossoming Japan team while the Lions are in New Zealand.

We have scouted around the provinces to offer up the best young players more than capable of breaking through by the end of 2017. We are going for a mix of bolters and lads you should already be familiar with.

Adam Byrne (Leinster)

Adam Byrne score the first try of the game 17/12/2016

The archetypal Joe Schmidt winger – big, brave, athletic, able to put himself about. When a player has been excitedly talked about since he was 18, you remember the name. Byrne made his debut as a rangy teenager back in December 2012. Four years later and he has 10 tries in nine senior games.

There is room in Schmidt’s squad for hungry, talented wingers that know how to get the job done. Byrne is heading in the right direction.

Caoilin Blade (Connacht)

Caolin Blade 29/4/2016

Nigel Carolan was asked back in 2014 to predict Connacht’s next player to make the seamless academy-to-senior professional transition. Without hesitation, he named Blade.

The 22-year-old scrum-half made his provincial debut in 2015 and has already amassed 20 senior caps. Pat Lam has no doubts about turning to him in big games and speaks highly of his distribution and game management. Luke McGrath has already been capped and Blade may not be far behind.

Darren Sweetnam (Munster)


Only a matter of time before the Cork native gets called in for another close look. Sweetnam has put on some timber since his Munster debut but still looks a few kilos light to survive at the top-end of it. That has not stopped him yet and he has enjoyed a superb 2015/16 thus far. Schmidt will have noted his kick-chase fervour against Leicester Tigers.

Adam McBurney (Ulster)

Behind hookers Rob Herring and Rory Best but the Ireland captain is hardly featuring in the Guinness PRO12. McBurney impressed with Ireland U20s in 2016 and has been praised by both Carolan and Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss. Does the basics well, tackles like a demon and is handy in the loose.

James Ryan (Leinster)

James Ryan 25/1/2016

Was all set for his Leinster senior debut before badly tearing his hamstring. His time will come and it should be sooner rather than later. Already possesses that imposing star quality. Was an immense captain for Ireland as they reached the World Rugby Junior Championship final in June.

Bill Johnston (Munster)

Another player niggled by hamstring issues and who will hope to get on top of them before he is slowed down too much. Highly rated in the Munster set-up. A play-making 10 that has no fear about barking orders at his troops or putting the shoulder in.

Jacob Stockdale (Ulster)

Stockdale skip

Marked out as one to watch in the Ulster set-up from way back. Comfortable at fullback or on either wing. Stockdale was selected for Ireland U20s Six Nations campaign but missed out on much of it as he was selected for the Ulster first team. Got his chance in the Junior World Championship and scorched in some fantastic tries. Five senior appearances at two tries this season.

Cian Romaine (Connacht)

We tipped this lad back in 2015 too and Ultan Dillane came along to steal everyone’s thunder. Impressed with the 2015 U20 squad but has been overtaken by Dillane and his biding his time with Connacht Eagles. At 6-foot-5 and 120kgs, he is another sizeable, athletic lock capable of stringing games together once afforded the chance.

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