DURING Ireland's defeat to South Africa on Saturday, Irish rugby followers witnessed international debuts for Leinster hooker Richard Strauss and new Leinster signing Michael Bent (pictured below).
Strauss has earned the right to represent Ireland on residency grounds and made his debut against the country of his birth at the Aviva. Since his arrival at Leinster, Strauss has performed admirably on a consistent basis, and as the sides lined up for the respective anthems Strauss could be seen proudly singing Amhrán na bhFiann alongside his ' fellow countrymen'.
But the inclusion of Michael Bent in the Irish squad has divided opinion amongst the rugby community. Bent was born in Hawera, New Zealand, and has played provincial rugby with Taranaki in the ITM Cup. In 2011 he was drafted into The Hurricanes Super 15 squad. Bent made only six starts with The Hurricanes in his debut season and according to various reports in his home country he had a solid, but not outstanding year.
Following that debut season in the Super 15, Bent agreed to join current European Cup holders Leinster and arrived in Ireland in late October, having completed ITM Cup duty with Taranaki. His first port of call on his arrival was not Leinster's training base in UCD, but an Irish squad session in Carton House.
Bent qualifies to represent Ireland as he has an Irish grandmother, but having not taken part in a single session or match with his new province he was parachuted into the Irish senior squad. Whether Bent was aware this would be the case, only the powers that be in the IRFU know.
Bent's meteoric rise to Irish selection is hard to believe. The IRFU has, in the past, highlighted the lack of internationalstandard props in the Irish game, in particular tight-head props. Yet the governing body appears to have done very little in rectifying these issues from within, and as it stands three of the four Irish provinces have non-qualified players operating at tight-head prop.
This leaves the question as to how young Irish props can possibly get exposure to rugby at the highest level if there is an 'outsider' selected ahead of them on a weekly basis. Young Irish props such as Munster's Stephen Archer and David Kilcoyne, Declan Fitzpatrick at Ulster and Jamie Hagan of Leinster, have all come through the provincial academies and national age grade sides. All of the above are holding down regular spots in their provinces match-day squads.
Within the four Irish provinces, a lot of time and emphasis is placed on player development and one of the IRFU's key strategic documents is their Long Term Player Development model. One can only imagine how these young Irish professional props felt as Michael Bent - from Taranaki, not Tipperary - ran onto the pitch for his first Irish cap last Saturday.
Closer to home
Back here in Drogheda, let's not forget that our local club Boyne have what could be a pivotal game in Division 2B of the AIL next Saturday when they host league leaders Naas at Shamrock Lodge (2.30pm). Boyne are lying fourth in the table and could return to the summit with a victory.
Incidentally, Boyne's tight-head prop is Paddy Cooney and he's from the Collon/Monasterboice area in County Louth. Maybe someone should tell Declan Kidney!