Looking to the future - The exciting XV that could light up Ireland's summer tour
Yesterday Joe Schmidt announced his squad to tour USA and Japan this summer and as expected, there were a host of new faces.
Eight uncapped young guns nicely complement the inclusion of regular international contributors such as Cian Healy, Simon Zebo and Keith Earls, with Schmidt having the luxury of integrating some exciting youngsters with seasoned veterans.
For Ulster back Jacob Stockdale and Leinster duo Andrew Porter and James Ryan, the summer tour comes a year on from their exploits at U20 level, with the trio spearheading Ireland's run to the World Cup final in England in 2016.
How much of a role they play in the three tests remains to be seen, but Schmidt has a number of interesting options at his disposal as he looks to gauge just how far along some of Ireland's most prodigious talents really are.
Here is one XV the Ireland boss could turn to during what will be a very instructive few weeks for Joe Schmidt.
15. Tiernan O'Halloran
14. Jacob Stockdale
11. Simon Zebo
As evidenced by his inclusion in the PRO 12 dream team, Connacht's O'Halloran has been the in-form fullback in the league this season. While Joey Carbery remains a viable option in the 15 jersey, O'Halloran's stellar attacking form deserves to be rewarded, as does Stockdale's, whose offensive thrusts remained incisive even as Ulster's attack stalled in the latter part of the season. The youngsters in the squad will learn a great deal from Zebo and Earls, and ideally Schmidt will take turns in blooding new faces alongside an established colleague.
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Rory Scannell
At times Scannell has been eclipsed by his southern hemisphere colleagues in midfield but there is no question that the Munster centre is a deserved inclusion in the squad - and a real candidate to start at least one test. As for Ringrose, there is every chance that he will be down in New Zealand by the time Ireland play their first test against the USA in New Jersey. If not, expect the Leinster star to grow even more this summer and make his Lions exclusion look increasingly misguided as the tour wears on.
10. Paddy Jackson
9. Luke McGrath
Jackson deputised well for Johnny Sexton in the autumn and the Six Nations when the Leinster ten was sidelined and deserves another chance to establish his international credentials despite a tough season at club level. How much game time Carbery gets - and more importantly, at what position - will tell us a lot about Schmidt's future plans for the 21-year-old, while McGrath has probably nudged ahead of Kieran Marmion in the scrum-half pecking order after a confident season with Leinster.
1. Cian Healy
2. Dave Heffernan
3. Andrew Porter
Healy will want to remind Warren Gatland of what he left out when he takes to the field this summer and he will do so off the back of some impressive performances in Leinster blue. Porter's inclusion further validates the decision to move the gigantic loosehead across to tighthead this season, and a strong showing this summer could see him fast-tracked onto the Leinster bench behind Lion Tadhg Furlong when the next campaign starts. At hooker, James Tracy and Niall Scannell have both impressed in their limited international outings, but after a solid season, a starting berth in one of the tests would be a just reward for Connacht's Dave Heffernan.
4. James Ryan
5. Ultan Dillane
Connacht second row Dillane has missed most of the season through injury but is expected to be the additional player added to the squad after this weekend's games. This summer would be the perfect time to remind people exactly why Dillane was tipped as a Lions bolter one year ago. Similarly, Ryan's inaugural campaign in professional rugby was ruined by a bad hamstring injury, but he remains a very exciting prospect and after learning the ropes from veteran Devin Toner in the early part of the tour, Schmidt might well be curious to see if his domineering performances at U20 level can be replicated on the test stage.
6. Rhys Ruddock (C)
7. Dan Leavy
8. Jack Conan
CJ Stander, Peter O'Mahony and Sean O'Brien are all heading off on the Lions tour but given their recent injury woes, Ruddock, Leavy and Conan are probably the in-form back rows in Ireland at the moment. Ruddock is being tipped by many as a possible captain this summer, and it would be a good sign of Schmidt rewarding form as the often overlooked flanker has been immense for Leinster in recent weeks. Leavy has edged ahead of Josh van der Flier in the openside queue over the last month while Conan has emerged as a serious contender to be the Ireland number eight come the autumn after a season of destructive ball carrying.