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24th Dec 2017

These are the top talents tipped to make a breakthrough in 2018

Jack O'Toole

Joe Schmidt handed out 14 Ireland debuts in 2017. We are looking at some of the bright talents that are best placed to make a breakthrough in 2018.

This time last year, we tipped Adam Byrne, Jacob Stockdale, Darren Sweetnam and James Ryan to make their Ireland breakthroughs, and while the likes of Stockdale and Ryan look set for lengthy international careers, Cian Romaine is not even in the country anymore, let alone the national squad.

It’s an imperfect science, it always has been, but Schmidt has introduced 49 new players to Test rugby over the last four years, and as we move another year closer to the Rugby World Cup, it’s hard to see that figure dropping in 2018.

Ireland have a summer tour to Australia followed by one, to potentially two Tests against the All Blacks in November of next year, but they’ll also play Argentina again and a yet to be confirmed Tier 2 nation, where a lot of the following players may feature.

Jordan Larmour

The full-back has been a revelation for Leinster this season and he would have seen a lot more gametime already this season had it not of been for the presence of Joey Carbery.

Larmour has scored three tries in five starts this season and he has also managed to keep the likes of Dave Kearney out of the Leinster Champions Cup matchday squads.

Opportunities may be limited for him given the presence of Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden, James Lowe, Adam Byrne and Isa Nacewa, but the 20-year-old has undeniable talent and definitely looks capable of stepping up to the next level.

Nick Timoney 

Another standout from the revered Leinster Academy. Timoney first gained national attention when he captained Blackrock College to a Leinster Schools Cup win over Clongowes in 2014, before he went on to represent Ireland in both the U20 Six Nations and Junior Rugby World Cup.

With Jamie Heaslip and Jack Conan both ahead of him at Leinster, Timoney moved north to Ulster in the summer of 2015 where he has scored two tries in four games this season in the PRO14, while in the Champions Cup, he recently started in both of Ulster’s back-to-back wins over Harlequins.

Competition for places in Ireland’s backrow is as tight as it ever has been, but if Timoney can oust Sean Reidy and nail down a permanent spot at number eight for the rest of this season, an Irish call up could beckon.

Tyler Bleyendaal 

Bleyendaal will qualify for Ireland under the residency rule from the end of January 2018.

The Munster fly-half was training alongside Bundee Aki in the extended Ireland squad in August, and although he continues to sit out with a recurring neck injury, it seems like he will almost certainly play for Ireland at some stage next year given the relative uncertainty at 10 behind Johnny Sexton.

Bleyendaal will have his work cut out for him at Munster in winning his starting spot back given the recent form of Ian Keatley, but it’s hard to see him not playing for Ireland at some stage before 2019.

Sam Arnold

Arnold has been one of a slew of impressive performers for Munster over the last month.

The powerful centre is enjoying a breakout campaign for the province this season after an injury ravaged year last term.

The former Ireland U20 star is quickly forming a steady partnership wth Rory Scannell in the Munster midfield, and although Chris Farrell’s return from a knee injury could see Arnold move into more of a reduced role, the glimpses he’s shown thus far have been impressive and a run in the Novemember series next year is not beyond question.

Alex Wootton

Of the 32 players Schmidt has handed debuts to over the last two years, six have been wingers.

The New Zealander meddles with his starting wingers more than just about any other position in his squad, and you figure if he stays true to form and hands out another spot on the wing next year, Wootton will be a worthy contender.

The former Ireland U20 winger has scored seven tries in 11 games this season and has averaged an impressive 59 metres per game.

Schmidt did not take on new wingers in either of the 2014 or 2015 seasons, but maybe he takes a punt with Wootton next year given that he’s proven to be one of the most clinical finishers in Irish Rugby this season.

Cian Kelleher

Wootton is probably more of a shot for a national call up than Kelleher, but Schmidt has been a big fan of the former Leinster utility since their days together at Belfield.

It has been a rough start for Kelleher at Connacht given the departure of Pat Lam and his turbulent injury history, but given an extended run on the wing, the former St. Michael’s student could yet prosper and be in line for a call up.

An underage international at U18, U19, U20 and Emerging levels, Kelleher is certainly talented enough to make the jump to Test rugby, but his cause will largely depend on availability and opportunity at Connacht as he bids for a place in a talented back three among Tiernan O’Halloran, Matt Healy and Niyi Adeolokun.

Max Deegan

An outside shot but a player with tremendous potential. Deegan was one of the stars of Ireland’s U20 Junior World Cup run last year and the St Michael’s College graduate was awarded for his efforts with a senior contract at Leinster last summer.

His international hopes will largely depend on the availability of Jamie Heaslip, but should the former Lions backrower enter early retirement if he is unable to return from a very troublesome back injury, there could be some scope for Deegan to see increased time in the Leinster matchday 23 next season given Jordi Murphy’s move to Ulster.

Deegan will have to bide his time in a highly competitive Leinster backrow, but if he is able to snare a couple of breaks next season, an Ireland call up may be in the reckoning.

Barry Daly

Schmidt has spoken highly of Daly already this season even though the Leinster winger was excluded from his latest November squad through injury.

Daly has scored five tries in six games this season, including a stunning hat-trick against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein earlier in the campaign.

The UCD winger will find it hard to dislodge Isa Nacewa, James Lowe and Fergus McFadden from a crowded Leinster back-three, but Cullen and Lancaster will not have forgotten his early season form either, and seemingly, neither has Schmidt.

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