The Ireland ‘A’ squad and management team touched down in Kingston, Canada last Wednesday to begin their Barclays Churchill Cup preparations in earnest. Head coach Allen Clarke has been pleased with what he has seen from the players so far.
With Ireland ‘A’ finishing third in both the 2006 and 2007 Barclays Churchill Cup tournaments, there is a real determination in Allen Clarke’s squad to make the top two this year and contest the cup final in Chicago on Saturday week.
Of the team chosen for Wednesday’s opener against the USA, there are only six survivors from the side that beat Scotland ‘A’ 22-21 in the 2007 Churchill Cup plate final last June.
Keith Earls, Jonathan Sexton, Michael Ross, Ryan Caldwell, Roger Wilson and Johnny O’Connor remain, while replacements Frank Murphy and Ian Keatley were also part of that plate final-winning squad.
The Scots gained revenge when the sides clashed in Perth in February and while Ireland ‘A’ also lost to England Saxons in their only other game this season, Clarke is particularly pleased with the make-up of his tournament squad.
“Obviously we’re delighted to be here. it’s a competition we’ve found to be very useful in terms of player development and exposing players to this level of rugby,” Clarke admitted.
“We’ve got a young squad with us, mixed with a blend of some senior players.
“The aim is to perform and through those performances win games. Obviously the ambition of the squad is to go one better (than the previous two years) and contest for the top place.”
Clarke, the IRFU’s High Performance Manager, has the benefit of having seven senior-capped players in his squad, with one of them – the recently recalled Bob Casey – captaining Ireland ‘A’ this summer.
Both Clarke and Casey visited Kingston’s historic Fort Henry for a pre-tournament press conference and with the sun beaming down and temperatures soaring, the Ireland ‘A’ boss ryely remarked that he has ‘brought umbrellas for the ginger boys in the squad!’
Kingston is no stranger to international rugby. Wednesday’s games (Scotland ‘A’ v Argentina ‘A’ and Ireland ‘A’ v USA) will be the third set of major rugby matches in the Canadian city this century.
In 2001 it hosted the Pan American Rugby Association Championships when Canada played the USA and Uruguay met Argentina, while in 2002 the city was the venue for the Canada East v Scotland game.
The 10,000-capacity Richardson Stadium is the venue for the Irish side’s first outing. You can purchase tickets for Wednesday’s double header here.
IrishRugby.ie will also keep fans up-to-date with the happenings from Richardson Stadium with a live match tracker, while both the Scotland ‘A’ v Argentina ‘A’ and Ireland ‘A’ v USA ties will be broadcast live on Sky Sports 1.
Clarke added: “I feel we have a quality squad, it’s young and it’s mixed with some experience. All of these players have the opportunity to put their hand up under a new management in Irish rugby for the 2011 World Cup.
“It’s an ambitious squad in that respect and that bodes well for what we do on the field.”
Ireland ‘A’ will renew rivalries with England Saxons in Toronto on Saturday with finals days a full seven days later at Chicago’s Toyota Park.