The age grade interprovincial games start this weekend, and they are the first time we get to see the stars of the future show what they can do. This year, the vast majority of those who played U20 last year, while still being underage, are ineligible for the tournament due to new rules. Some players, like Harrison Brewer, have been given an exemption. This means that more players are given a chance to stake their claim for further honours with Ireland U20, and here are four candidates who will look to lead their provinces to glory.
Munster - Stephen Fitzgerald
Fresh out of Ard Scoil Ris, this 18 year old fullback has already featured in the senior set up, and was involved in the pre season friendly against Gloucester. That's really all you need to know about this talented youngster, who is one of the brightest backline prospects from Munster since Keith Earls. He would be a shoo in for Irish honours if not for the surplus of talent in the back three at this age already - Jack Power, Jacob Stockdale, Billy Dardis and Ciaran Gaffney. Needless to say, while Ireland are well stocked, Fitzgerald can at least go on to have a highly successful career for the southern province.
He's the focal point of an exciting backline featuring Irish U19 international and sprinter Greg O'Shea, U20 scrumhalf Jack Culln, while Gearoid Lyons and Tomas Quinlan are two very handy distributors.
Connacht - Cian Romaine
Ireland U19 international and Connacht academy player Cian Romaine stands out in a highly talented Connacht U20 team. The thing about the tall second row that stands out the most is his impressive motor. Romaine has a huge work rate, and will be noticed on the pitch doing several positive actions time and time again. He hounds ball carriers in defense, and carries effectively and supports well in attack. The future is extremely bright for this Buccaneers clubman
Leinster - Nick Timoney
The former Blackrock college no.8 is another outstanding backrower coming through Leinster's ranks. Extremely highly rated coming out of school, Timoney can play across the backrow, but is most suited to 8. He will go strength to strength, and will lead a Leinster U20 team shorn of their JWC experience.
Ulster - Jacob Stockdale
When the first you hear of Stockdale is the hat trick of tries he scored for Ireland U18 last year, you take notice. From that moment on, Stockdale was a try scoring machine, whether from outside centre, wing or his preferred position of fullback. This kid is a talent, is only U19, and as a first year Ulster academy player, was already involved in Ulster senior pre season games.
He is the most exciting Ulster young backline star of recent years, and I'm including Craig Gilroy, Luke Marshall, Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding in that.