Irish rugby is in rude health at the moment. The academies for each province seems to flourishing almost to the point where there are too many players and not enough space for them to get the necessary game time to develop.
1. 7's team
It's about time Ireland had a Seven's team. It's a great way to develop young players, something that New Zealand and Australia have been doing for years. It's something that the IRFU needs to look at.
It's no coincidence that the best teams in the world have their players come through the 7's circuit before going on to further levels. This gives them some attributes and abilities that other nations never have the chance to develop.
7's promotes fitness, speed and running abilities. Players who have played 7's have a better understanding of space, how to create line breaks, and are able to withstand huge periods of continuous play.
Tries like these in the Super Rugby competition this year wouldn't have been scored without a 7's input.
Tim Nanai-Williams touching down after an incredible 3 minutes of play
Fantastic individual solo effort from Bernard Foley
7's rewards players who can spot a gap, accelerate into it, and those who can offload and run support lines. Backs and back rowers could benefit from the speed of the game, and the added skills needed to thrive in the environment.
If you still don't believe that 7's produces results, look at New Zealand 7's record.
Twenty five of 70 New Zealand 7's representatives ever have either gone on to be All Blacks, with a number of future All Blacks included
- Charles Piutau (caps 0)
- Joe Rokocoko (68)
- Jerome Kaino (49)
- Tanerau Latimer (0) - Maoris (5) Super Rugby winner with the Chiefs
- Jonah Lomu (63)
- Tim Nanai-Williams (0) - Super Rugby winner with the Chiefs
- Fritz Lee (0) - Super Rugby winner with the Chiefs
- Zac Guildford (10)
- Israel Dagg (25)
- Kurt Baker (0) - Maoris (3)
- Rico Gear (20)
- Anthony Tuitavake (6)
- Rene Ranger (3)
- Ben Smith (12)
- Adam Thomson (29)
- Beauden Barrett (5)
- Frank Halai (0)
- Liam Messam (20)
- Christian Cullen (58)
- Hosea Gear (14)
- Cory Jane (43)
- Tamati Ellison (4)
- Buxton Popoali'i (0)
- Victor Vito (20)
- Julian Savea (9)
- Rodney So'oialo (62)
- Dallas Seymour (3)
- Eric Rush (9)
- Scott Waldrom (0) - played in uncapped game vs Munster 2008
- Bruce Reihana (2)
- Sosene Anesi (1)
- Mils Muliaina (100)
- Roger Randle (2)
It's not just New Zealand, in the last few years Ed Quirk, Liam Gill, James Stannard, Robbie Coleman, Ed Stubbs, Dom Shipperley, Matt Lucas, Luke Morahan, Nick Phipps, Tevita Kuridrani and Jono Lance who have all featured in Super Rugby this year have played for Australia 7's.
Some of those including Phipps, Gill and Shipperley have caps for the Wallabies, and the others are all under 24.
If you still think that this is only a Southern Hemisphere thing, then have a read of Murray Kinsella's piece on 7's a year ago.
With 7's coming into the Olympics in Rio in 3 years time, it will give a chance for the youngsters involved to develop some big game experience which would be vital in future years.
Added to that is the chance to play in the Olympics, which no athlete would ever want to turn down.
As supporters, It would be great to cheer on another Irish team in the Olympics, and the IRFU are missing a huge opportunity to capitalise on a huge opportunity to continue to grow the supporter base of Rugby in the country.
Ireland already have a Women's team, which has already made dividends with the team winning the Plate in China this year. Coupled with the Women's remarkable Grand Slam this year, the Seven's team has served to increase interest in Women's rugby in Ireland.
Men's Seven's need this.
2. Draft System: New Zealand model
If you haven't read it already, Ireland's Answer makes a good case for introducing a draft system to better distributed amongst Ireland's provinces.
He says that it would be best to leave those on development contracts alone. However, I think these are the players that would benefit most from the system. Academy players, unless moving into a 25 man squad, should be exempt as this is an important part of their development.
However, I wouldn't dismiss the draft idea. I would try to incorporate the Super Rugby model or something similar. This would be where each province nominated a 25 man squad, with remaining players available to move between provinces that year. This would give some of the fringe players a better chance of getting more game time in another province and continuing their development.
3. WolfhoundsIreland definitely needs to make better use of it's second team. While their isn't a second team competition to help this yet, more than one game a year would be of benefit to those who aren't quite good enough for the National team yet, like Tiernan O'Halloran or Rhys Ruddock.
The team could play against some Tier 2 or 3 nations during IRB windows to promote the game in these countries.
The "Emerging Irish" team to play in a competition in Georgia this summer is a great idea, and needs to be continued. A step in the right direction.
4. Use the AIL more
The AIL isn't being used effectively by the Provinces since the start of professionalism. The standard in the AIL is significantly better than most people realise, and this should be a feeding ground for some of the academy players to get some real game time against physically more mature opponents.
Props would develop faster and better if up against older props every week in AIL.
The restrictions that are put on contracted players in each match day squad need to be removed to allow for this development. This allows the players currently in the system to benefit from exposure to this players in the hope of receiving call ups themselves.
A bigger debate on the subject is available from Murray Kinsella.
5. Move abroad
This is an option that more and more players seem to be doing recently. Ulster especially seem to be loaning players out only for them to return as better players after a year, as has happened with Michael Heaney and Ian McKinney.
Shane Monahan, Robin Copeland, Gareth Steenson are among many "Exiles" plying their trade in England and Wales and impressing, while the recent departures of Brian Hayes and Nigel Brady to France are further options for other fringe players that need game time, but have international stars ahead of them.
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