Friday 20 September 2013

Pro 12: Players to watch out for: Part 3 - Irish Provinces

Part 1 - Welsh regions
Part 2 - Italy / Scottish Clubs
Part 3 - Irish Provinces

Like Wales, Ireland have a number of promising youngsters coming through the ranks, however, unlike Wales, the opportunities for these players may not be as abundant because most of the Irish stars still play for their province.

There are a few promising players coming through who will need a big season this year if they are to fulfill their huge potential. I tried to avoid picking someone with a huge amount of talent that happened to have a lot of competition ahead of him, as I thought his chances might be more limited than someone who needs a big season if he is to convince the coaches and fans that he's the real deal.

Back - Matt Healy

This was possibly the hardest choice of all. Tiernan O'Hallorhan hasn't hit the heights that I expected of him since watching him express at under 20s at the same time as the likes of Andrew Conway, Simon Zebo and Darren Hudson. And Shane Layden was fantastic for the 20s a year ago.

But I've decided to go for Matt Healy, a former underage scrumhalf, now 26, this is Healy's second season at Connacht, and he's already tripled the amount of appearances he's had for them this season. What's more, he's impressed hugely in those two games scoring two scorching tries. A big season for him and he could be assured of a career in the professional ranks,

Forward - Denis Buckley

There were also a few contenders for this spot, but with the additions of Craig Clarke and Aly Muldowney, the prospect of Mick Kearney getting more gametime seemed minimal. However, 23 year old prop Denis Buckley will be looking to add to his 27 caps from the last two seasons, and cement his place in the Connacht first team. Once he gets a consistent run of games and exposure to the Heineken Cup, there's no reason why he shouldn't be involved in future Ireland squads.

Back - Brendan Macken

Similar to the backs in Connacht, this was a tough choice. I was extremely tempted to pluck for Luke McGrath, but at 4th choice, and given that he's only 20, he still has a year of development left. However, with Brian O'Driscoll retiring in a year, with the unfortunate injury enforced retirement of Eoin O'Malley, Brendan Macken needs a strong year to show Matt O'Connor that he can be the province's outside centre for years to come, especially with a lack of alternatives in the squad and in the academy, with other options Adam Byrne and Fergus McFadden perhaps more suited to other positions.

Forward - Martin Moore

He's had a strong start to the season, and is perhaps benefitting the most from the departure of Jamie Hagan, and the apparent injury to Michael Bent. From his early season form, Moore is beginning to fulfill some of the promise that has been apparent from an early age, and Bent looks to be in difficulty to regain his spot. More competition from Irish tightheads is always a good thing, and the whole of the country will be interested at Moore's progression this year.

Back - JJ Hanrahan

There were other contenders, like Ronan O'Mahony, Luke O'Dea, Andrew Conway and Ivan Dineen. But really, with Ronan O'Gara gone, the former JWC player of the year finalist was the only option. Many people's choice for a future long term outhalf. It's surprising that last season he wasn't given many chances, but he seems like he's set to challenge Keatley for a place in the starting XV, and has the skills and ability to play at 12 too. A fantastic prospect, and like Moore, many will be watching his progress with interest. Hopefully will be in Schmidt's plans by the summer tour.

Forward - Stephen Archer

A last minute change of mind, I had Paddy Butler in here until the last moment, but Ireland's current tighthead issues, any tighthead of any note will be scrutinised. John Ryan will be breathing down Archer's neck, so Archer needs to take advantage of any opportunity he gets, especially while Botha is out injured at the moment.

Back - Chris Farrell

One of the easier choices, If you've been listening to any Ulster supported in the last two years, you'll know that this guy is something special. More has been said about Chris Farrell than any other prospect that's come through in the last while, more than Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall, Stuart Olding or Craig Gilroy.

Read more here

Forward - Niall Annett

I've been an admirer of Niall Annett for a long time. Ever since he was one of the star performers for the 20s as captain a number of years ago. Whenever he has played for Ulster, his throwing has been exemplary and his scrummaging has always been impressive. This doesn't even take into account the work he gets through and the amount of ball he carries. It's mystifying to me why he isn't the second choice up there, but hopefully he will be come the end of the year, because everything I've seen about him so far screams long term international.

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