DECLAN KIDNEY has challenged other young players to follow the example set by Connacht's new kid on the block, Robbie Henshaw.
The 19-year-old has established himself as Connacht's first-choice full-back, despite just leaving school last year, and he will make his Ireland Wolfhounds debut against England at the Sportsground tonight.
His selection is one of some hugely exciting choices by Kidney, including another Connacht player in centre Dave McSharry.
Henshaw is unlikely to force his way into the Six Nations squad, which will be announced on Sunday, but he is one to keep an eye on for the future.
"The possibilities for Robbie are huge," said Kidney. "It will just come down to avoiding injuries and his own application. He has a heavy work load this year – he is also in college – so we will need to look after him carefully.
"But certainly, for a lad just out of school, he has gone about his business very well."
Kidney said there are as many as nine places still up for grabs in the squad to face Wales in the opening Six Nations game on February 2.
The Ireland coach will take 23 players to Galway for tonight's game, leaving 21 others back at base in Carton House. The carrot Kidney has dangled is that the final squad for the Wales game won't be selected until after tonight's game.
"I want 30 fit bodies for next week," said Kidney. "What we've said is that we'll take Friday's game into consideration and then pick the 30 for the Wales game. Those not involved tonight, though, are far from guaranteed their places.
"Everyone will be awaiting notification on Saturday."
This is Kidney's only chance to have a look at some options beyond those regular first-team players and he is expecting a huge test.
"It's the first English team out since the senior side beat New Zealand, so they'll all be rooting for places the same way that our lads are," he added.
The familiarity of the players through Heineken Cup involvement will add spice to the fixture, as referenced by Ireland captain James Coughlan.
"I've just looked at their pack and they're big men. George Kruis, in the back-row, is a massive man. I played against him at Saracens. Jordan Crane is a big ball-carrier. They'll be coming over here to try to dominate us physically," said Coughlan.
"We know that if we can win the collisions, we'll come out on the right side of the result."
That the Wolfhounds players truly believe they have a chance of making the step-up to the senior squad will, according to Coughlan, be a huge motivating factor.
"As Declan said, it's an opportunity for everybody. It's not being dismissed as: 'Off ye go lads, play your game and we'll see ye at the end of the Six Nations'. We've been in the meetings, heard the game plans and had a look at the Welsh stuff. The carrot is there, so it's time to go out and perform now."
Meanwhile, Connacht have announced the signing of lock Aly Muldowney on a three-year contract from Aviva Premiership club Exeter.
Muldowney (29) is in his second season with the Chiefs after starting his professional rugby career at Glasgow.
Samoa scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i has signed for Northampton after rejecting a new deal to remain with the Ospreys.