Ian Humphreys could take a big step towards senior international recognition at Ravenhill tonight as Ireland ‘A’ renew rivalries with England Saxons (kick-off 7.45pm).
The rising Ulster-born star, who is fast making a name for himself at Leicester Tigers, has enjoyed being back in Belfast this week as coach Michael Bradley readies the ‘A’ side for action.
Humphreys, the younger brother of retired international David, stunned Munster last month with a superb display as Leicester shattered the province’s unbeaten Heineken Cup record at Thomond Park. Now set for his ‘A’ debut, he believes this Irish side have a good chance of success tonight, despite the loss of experienced captain Malcolm O’Kelly through injury.
Reflecting on his call-up, he said: “I hadn’t heard anything in advance of the squad being announced so it was a big surprise. I am obviously very excited by it and it helps that I have come over with Shane Jennings and Leo Cullen who are both in the squad too. I also know quite a lot of the guys from Ulster and the younger age groups.
“I have only played at Ravenhill a couple of times but it will be nice to be there and play in front of a lot of friends and family.”
The talented out-half made his Ireland bow in an Under-19 game against France in 1999, and since then his career has blossomed. He has also represented Ireland at Under-21 level and Sevens, captaining his country at the Sevens World Cup in Hong Kong, and continues to climb the ladder towards a senior cap.
While the 24-year-old models his style on no particular number 10, he has great admiration for New Zealand’s Dan Carter. Asked to name the toughest opponent he has faced, he admits it was Munster and Ireland back rower Denis Leamy in a schools interprovincial match.
Humphreys, who has been capped by the Barbarians, believes Ireland have “a great opportunity” to win the Six Nations this year, “particularly with the two home games at Croke Park.” “If they can win both of those, then they should have great confidence for the away trips to Scotland and Italy,” he added.
While now assisting Leicester – he has been been at Welford Road since 2005 and recently signed a new contract – he conceded he was fortunate to get the chance to start against Munster last month, because the club’s two other out-halves were injured.
“I really enjoyed the Thomond Park experience,” he said. “It’s a great venue, full of atmosphere, and a place where the supporters urge on Munster but they don’t criticise the visitors. There’s a lot of respect there.
“Obviously Welford Road would be my favourite ground but I would be happy to play again in Limerick.”
The two proudest moments of his career to date were playing in the Sevens in Hong Kong and helping Leicester beat Munster 13-6 in the Heineken Cup.
Asked about the AIB League, Humphreys, who helped Belfast Harlequins reach the 2004/05 Division One final, said: “I’m pleased to see my former club ‘Quins have knocked up a few wins recently after a bad start to the season. I hope they can remain in the top division.”