Sport Rugby

Sunday 15 September 2019

Eight young guns out to impress Ireland coach Joe Schmidt over the Christmas period

Gavin Coombes, Gavin Thornbury and Caelan Doris
Gavin Coombes, Gavin Thornbury and Caelan Doris
Fineen Wycherley: The second-row is part of an increasing west Cork presence within the Munster dressing room. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

For Ireland's provincial rugby coaches, Christmas is a time for giving opportunities.

With the leading internationals allowed to put their feet up for at least some of the festive season, Leo Cullen, Johann van Graan, Andy Friend and Dan McFarland will be forced to delve into their squads and produce a few gems.

Although there are lots of windows during the season where young guns get to show their wares on the PRO14 stage, the seasonal interpros draw in sell-out crowds and big TV audiences.

Rugby fans may have had a good idea who Garry Ringrose was before his mazy run against Munster three years ago, but that moment exposed him to a wider audience. Likewise, Jordan Larmour's break-out try in the same fixture last year was another that caught the public imagination.

The Ireland coaches will be watching closely as they digest all of the action.

The World Cup window is narrowing to the point of being very difficult to get into the frame for the trip to Japan but Joe Schmidt will keep an open mind until the very last minute.

There is plenty of talent across the four provinces, so who might put their hands up and make this a December to remember?

Paul Boyle (Connacht)

International Rugby Newsletter

Rugby insights and commentary from our renowned journalists like Neil Francis, Will Slattery, Alan Quinlan & Cian Tracey.

Wexford native Boyle has been the break-out star of Connacht's season and, after sitting out the Perpignan European games, he'll be well rested for a crack at the interprovincial games. A powerful ball-carrier who can play across the back-row, he's an emerging leader in the western province's dressing-room.

Gavin Thornbury (Connacht)

Name-checked by Joe Schmidt at the start of the season, Connacht second-row Thornbury is the oldest man on this list at 25 but is something of a late bloomer after injury denied him opportunity at Leinster and he travelled to New Zealand in order to improve as a player. Injury denied him a proper go at November, but he is a real physical presence and a noted lineout technician.

Caelan Doris (Leinster)

The star and captain of last year's Ireland U-20s, Mayo native Doris made his debut against Connacht last season but has been handed plenty of game-time by Leo Cullen in this campaign. As a result, he is growing into his role as an abrasive ball-carrying No 8 with a good game sense and a relentless work ethic which is well suited to the way Leinster play.

Hugh O'Sullivan (Leinster)

Leinster have a couple of highly talented scrum-halves coming through their ranks. Clontarf's O'Sullivan is a player who has already caught the eye. The Meath man is noted for his smarts on the pitch and he applies them to good effect as he manages the game well.

Fineen Wycherley (Munster)

Part of the growing west Cork presence in the Munster dressing-room, second-row Wycherley came off the bench in Castres last weekend and should see some game-time over the festive period. The Bantry man was the province's Academy player of the year last season and has the size to thrive.

Gavin Coombes (Munster)

Skibereen native Coombes (21) has made a big impression in his four appearances this season. Well able to cope and thrive physically, he showed his range of skills with a superb pass in the win over Edinburgh.

Eric O'Sullivan (Ulster)

Not quite a new face having started both of Ulster's European wins over Scarlets, loosehead prop O'Sullivan has been the break-out star of the northern province's season having been handed his chance by Dan McFarland. Schmidt named him as one to watch for 2019 last week after the 23-year-old Dubliner helped steady the Ravenhill outfit's scrum in recent times.

James Hume (Ulster)

Another promising centre, James Hume has quietly built his experience during this season and looks set for inclusion in at least some of the festive action. Still just 20, the Ulster Academy player is a noted defender and has the perfect mentor for growing his game in defence coach Jared Payne who knows a thing or two about the art of midfield play.

Irish Independent

The Throw-In: Selection dilemma for Dublin and All-Ireland ladies football final preview

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Also in Sport