Speaking at Wednesday’s launch of the PricewaterhouseCoopers High Performance Select Group for 2008 at Dublin’s Spencer Dock, IRFU High Performance Manager Allen Clarke outlined the programme itself and its benefits for both the players involved and the provincial and national set-ups.
Explaining how the High Performance Select Group works, Clarke said: “From the players’ point of view, they can expect to come into an environment which is striving for excellence. That’s not excellence as an occasional act but excellence that becomes habit.
“That’s going to challenge their focus, their ambition and challenge their responsibility for their own management going forward.
“The added value to the player will start off with individual evaluations on and off the field, resulting in key performance indicators set out in a High Performance plan for those players.
“There will be be regulation consulation with the provincial coach and analytical reviewing from player cams.
“There will be the specialist services and specialist coaches which will be assigned to those players to strengthen their skills and erase their weaknesses. And of course there will be that integration, on invite, to the national squad.
“It’s about treating the players specially, providing ‘special’ for them but expecting ‘special’ from them,” he added.
The 16 players selected for the HPSG for 2008 hail from all four provinces and include eight players – Tommy Bowe, Tony Buckley, Gavin Duffy, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip, Rob Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald and Jonathan Sexton – who have made the extended Ireland Six Nations squad.
Clarke pointed out that the process is all about making sure the players and those who come into the HPSG in the future realise their full potential at both provincial and national level.
“It’s critical to establish that there are three tiers of the High Performance Unit and this is the pinnacle of that and these players are within the professional ranks,” said the former Ireland hooker and Ulster assistant coach.
“Below and supporting this we have our academy structures and out of that will come our academy select. And at the very base, the foundations of Irish rugby moving forward, are our provincial talent squad players – out of those will come our national talent select.
“So that in four to five years time we actually have a player who has been picked up at 15 years of age, graduates through the relevant age group sides, is assessed along the way, is given an individual programme and as a result steps into the High Performance Select environment with the ambition and the potential to play for Ireland.
“That’s absolutely critical. It’s about the potential moving forward of these players. They’ve got quality but it’s about their future potential.”