Emerging Ireland Squad: Meet the Players
The Emerging Ireland squad that will compete in the Toyota Challenge in Bloemfontein over the next two weeks features a host of players that have starred for Ireland at underage level and on the world stage for the Ireland Sevens. Fourteen were part of the IRFU’s National Talent Squad programme and the majority have already made a breakthrough at senior level for their Provinces. The Capped Players Max Deegan was named Player of the Tournament after helping the Ireland U20s to the final of the 2016 U20 World Rugby Championships. He was capped by Ireland against Wales in the 2020 Six Nations Championships and despite some serious injury setbacks, has amassed 85 senior caps for Leinster. Shane Daly has two caps for Ireland, making his senior debut against Georgia in the 2020 Autumn Nations Cup. A former Ireland Sevens international, he has 49 senior caps for Munster. Robert Baloucoune is another former Ireland Sevens international who has two senior international caps having made his debut against the USA in July 2021. The winger has 47 senior caps for Ulster. The Maori Crew Cian Prendergast played in both games against the Maori All Blacks during the summer. He played for the Ireland U20s in 2020 and has made 32 senior appearances for Connacht. Joe McCarthy also played in both fixtures against the Maori All Blacks on the 2022 New Zealand Tour and played Ireland U20s with Prendergast in 2020. The second row has made 13 senior appearances for Leinster. The Development Brief Both Tom Ahern and Jamie Osborne trained with the Ireland squad as Development Players ahead of the 2021 Autumn Nations Series. Ahern was an Ireland U20 international in 2019 and 2020 missing the Grand Slam campaign through injury. He has made 21 senior appearances for Munster Osborne represented the Ireland U20s in 2021 but had already made his senior Leinster debut at that stage. He has made 20 senior appearances for Leinster. Proven Provincials Stewart Moore, Calvin Nash and Diarmuid Barron have all established themselves as senior Provincial players. All three represented Ireland at U20 World Rugby Championships. Since making his senior debut for Ulster in December 2019, Moore has accumulated 32 senior appearances. Nash has played 38 senior games for Munster, while Barron has 36 senior Munster caps. The Crop of 2019 John Hodnett, Scott Penny, David McCann, Dylan Tierney-Martin, Brian Deeny, Jake Flannery, Thomas Clarkson, Michael Milne, Callum Reid and Josh Wycherley were all part of Ireland’s U20 Six Nations Grand Slam winning squad in 2019. At Munster, Hodnett and Wycherley have made 22 and 29 senior provincial appearances respectively while Flannery made six senior appearances for Munster before making the switch to Ulster this season. McCann, who captained the U20s the following year, has made 15 senior appearances for Ulster with Reid clocking 11 appearances to date. Tierney-Martin has made eight senior appearances for Connacht and scored a try against the Stormers at the weekend. Penny has made the most senior appearances for Leinster with 42 with Milne (18), Clarkson (18) and Deeny (3) also making the breakthrough at senior level for Leo Cullen’s side. The Sevens Boys Baloucoune and Daly are not the only two players in the Emerging Ireland squad that have benefitted from exposure to the Ireland Sevens programme. Andrew Smith and Chay Mullins both won bronze medals at the recent Rugby World Cup Sevens in Cape Town while Cormac Izuchukwu won two Ireland Sevens caps before clocking nine senior appearances for Ulster. Smith also won the Energia AIL title with Clontarf earlier this year and has made two senior appearances for Leinster. Mullins has joined the Connacht Academy this season having also helped the Ireland U20s to a 2022 Six Nations Grand Slam. The 2020 Triple Crowners The 2020 U20 Six Nations was cut short by the Covid pandemic but after three games the Ireland U20 squad had secured wins over Scotland, Wales and England, claiming an unofficial Triple Crown. Ethan McIlroy, Jack Crowley, Tom Stewart and Ben Murphy were in that squad alongside the aforementioned Smith, McCann, Prendergast, Ahern and McCarthy. McIlroy has made 37 senior appearances for Ulster while Stewart’s progress has been hampered by injury but he claimed an impressive try against Connacht in the first round of this season’s URC. Out-half Crowley has notched up 16 senior appearances for Munster including a start in the Champions Cup against Castres. Murphy has also made his senior debut for Leinster having gone on loan to Munster during the 2021/22 season. The Class of 2021 In 2021, the U20 Six Nations took place in the summer months of June and July as the global pandemic continued to disrupt the rugby calender. Osborne featured strongly for the Richie Murphy’s side but so too did Nathan Doak, Cathal Forde and Sam Illo. Doak has already made a big impact at senior provincial level with Ulster clocking up 24 appearances since making his debut against Munster in December 2020. Forde has made two senior appearances for Connacht while Illo has featured three times since switching from the Leinster age grade system. International IQ There are three players in the squad that have come through the Irish qualified player pathway. Mullins came via the Bristol Academy and the IRFU’s IQ programme in the UK. Michael McDonald was born in Ireland but represented Australia U20s at the 2019 U20 World Rugby Championship having emigrated down under with his family at the age of 13. He joined Ulster at the start of the current season. Antoine Frisch was born in France but qualifies for Ireland via his grandmother. He joined Munster this season from Premiership side Bristol Bears and made his Munster debut against Cardiff in the opening URC fixture of the 2022/23 season. Roman Salanoa was born in Hawaii but has qualified to play for Ireland through residency. He represented the USA at the 2016 U20 World Rugby Championship. Originally part of the Leinster development programme, Salanoa subsequently joined Munster and has made 10 senior appearances to date. New Kid on the Block James Culhane is yet to make his senior debut for Leinster but the powerful number eight left his mark on the 2022 U20 Six Nations. He was named Player of the Tournament as Ireland secured a memorable Grand Slam.