The Ireland squad for the summer international tour will be captained by Rory Best and shows a mixture of youth in addition to a strong spine of experience for the two Test matches against Canada and the USA at the end of the month.
With Leinster qualified for the Heineken Cup final on May 23, the same day as the Test match against Canada, and 13 players travelling to South Africa with the British & Irish Lions as well as any possible replacements called up, the Ireland tour gives an opportunity for players to put themselves in the frame for next season.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney said: “When we confirmed the tour back in January, we were always hopeful some of the provinces and players would be involved in the Heineken Cup or Challenge Cup finals and we would also be without any players selected for the British & Irish Lions tour.
“We felt that it would be a chance for the national management to work closely with a larger pool of players than we would normally do during the season and for players to come through at this level.
“We are continuing to try and build a squad and this tour is a real chance for players to stake a claim for the November games and next year’s RBS 6 Nations Championship.”
While several players are being rested for the tour, 12 Test-capped players are named in the travelling party with Rory Best, Peter Stringer, Bob Casey, Eoin Reddan, Mick O’Driscoll and Denis Leamy amongst those bringing their considerable experience to the tour.
This experience will be important in helping some of the younger members come through which include several new faces to the international squad.
Hooker Sean Cronin and his Connacht captain John Muldoon are both included, as are Niall Ronan and Chris Henry for the first time.
Prop Mike Ross, the capped Donnacha Ryan and second row Ryan Caldwell have all been members of Ireland squads in the past but are included for their first senior tour.
There are two specialists out-halves named with Ian Keatley and Niall O’Connor, both included along with Ian Dowling, Darren Cave and Denis Hurley amongst the backs.
Kidney continued: “The number of experienced players we are bringing is important as we will have two strong oppositions on consecutive weekends to deal with and while there will be new caps during the tour, it is important that we try to bring them through while making it a positive experience.
“We obviously want to win both games, but it is a balancing act trying to do that while exposing certain players and new combinations to test match level.
“This is our first tour together and with many players not available, it does add another unknown element to it against the backdrop of playing a Canada side certainly looking to get one over us after last year’s game.”
IRELAND Squad (North American Tour, 2009):
Rory Best (Banbridge/Ulster) (capt)
Tony Buckley (Shannon/Munster)
Ryan Caldwell (Dungannon/Ulster)*
Bob Casey (London Irish)
Darren Cave (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster)*
Tom Court (Malone/Ulster)
Sean Cronin (Buccaneers/Connacht)*
Ian Dowling (Shannon/Munster)*
Gavin Duffy (Galwegians/Connacht)
Chris Henry (Ballymena/Ulster)*
Denis Hurley (Cork Constitution/Munster)*
Ian Keatley (Galwegians/Connacht)*
Denis Leamy (Cork Constitution/Munster)
Keith Matthews (Galwegians/Connacht)*
John Muldoon (Buccanneers/Connacht)*
Barry Murphy (UL Bohemians/Munster)
Niall O’Connor (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster)*
Mick O’Driscoll (Cork Constitution/Munster)
Eoin Reddan (London Wasps)
Niall Ronan (Shannon/Munster)*
Mike Ross (Harlequins)*
Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster)
Peter Stringer (Shannon/Munster)
Bryan Young (Ballymena/Ulster)
N.B. * Denotes uncapped at full international level
** To be confirmed following medical reports following final round of Magners League
Ireland Tour Schedule:
Depart Sunday, May 17 for Canada
Canada v Ireland, Saturday, May 23, kick-off 2pm (local time), Thunderbird Stadium, Vancouver
USA v Ireland, Sunday, May 31, kick-off 2pm (local time), Buck Shaw Stadium, Santa Clara, California