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Creating Opportunities For Talent To Flourish

Creating Opportunities For Talent To Flourish

In 2014 the IRFU and the provinces began the process of reframing the elite player pathway with the aim of fast-tracking talent into the senior professional ranks and, thereby, creating greater competition within the system which would in turn ultimately drive performance.

There has been focused investment in coaching, talent identification and development, strength and conditioning, nutrition and a host of other disciplines over this period to facilitate accelerated player development.

The introduction of a professional Sevens programme provided a complimentary development avenue alongside the work being carried out in the provincial Academies and down into the National Talent squads (NTS).

The guiding principle being that the system should provide opportunity and support for the best talent in the pathway in order for them to succeed at senior provincial and international level.

IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora commented:

Six years ago when we set out on this journey we agreed to put the player at the heart of every decision.

“There has been tremendous work done from the very top level down right down to development staff who are working on the ground with young players on the elite player pathway.

“We are starting to see the fruits of this labour with young players coming through earlier and better prepared to thrive in the senior professional game.

“It is imperative for Irish Rugby that we continue to invest in the player pathway as we increase competition within the system and ultimately drive performance on the playing field.”

In 2016 the Ireland Under-20s reached the final of the World Rugby U-20 Championship in Manchester. From that squad, Jacob Stockdale (30 caps), Andrew Porter (28), James Ryan (28), Hugo Keenan (2), Will Connors (2) and Max Deegan (1) have since earned full international recognition, with Shane Daly currently uncapped but in the Ireland senior squad.

Other members of that squad are forging successful professional careers at provincial level –  Vakh Abdaladze (Leinster 11 appearances), Cillian Gallagher (Connacht 15 appearances), Stephen Kerins (Connacht 10 appearances), Bill Johnston (Munster 12 appearances/Ulster 15 appearances),  Greg Jones (Ulster 17 appearances), Adam McBurney (Ulster 30 appearances), Conor O’Brien (Leinster 23 appearances) and Jimmy O’Brien (Leinster 22 appearances).

Meanwhile, Terry Kennedy (40 World Series appearances) has been a stand-out performer for the Ireland Men’s Sevens team on the HSBC World Series circuit.

The progression of this talented group of 24-year-olds is the template Irish Rugby is striving to replicate year on year across the elite player pathway, creating opportunity and competition within the system.

A snapshot of the opening six rounds of the 2020/21 Guinness PRO14 season shows the Irish provinces have won 16 out of their 17 games while utilising 47 players who are 23 years of age or younger.

As the provinces prepare for round 6 of PRO14 action this weekend, there are further opportunities for this cohort of young players to build experience.

While an extended international window and the impact of post-lockdown injury prevalence are undoubtedly factors in increased opportunity for young professional players this season, the provinces are proactively exposing talented youngsters to senior professional rugby and are reaping the benefits.

Guinness Pro14 Appearances

Name Province

Age

Appearances

Game Minutes

Jack Aungier Connacht

21

3 (2R)

151

Paul Boyle Connacht

23

3 (1R)

175

Jordan Duggan Connacht

22

2 (2R)

19

Conor Fitzgerald Connacht

23

2 (2R)

49

Sean Masterson Connacht

22

1 (1R)

25

Niall Murray Connacht

21

1 (1R)

3

Cian Prendergast Connacht

20

1 (1R)

7

Colm Reilly Connacht

21

1 (1R)

7

Peter Sullivan Connacht

22

2

150

Ryan Baird Leinster

21

2 (1R)

83

Harry Byrne Leinster

21

4 (1R)

222

Tom Clarkson Leinster

20

2 (2R)

39

Jack Dunne Leinster

21

2 (2R)

31

Caelan Doris Leinster

22

1

80

Ciaran Frawley Leinster

22

2

75

David Hawshaw Leinster

21

2 (2R)

27

Ronan Kelleher Leinster

22

1

50

Michael Milne Leinster

21

3 (2R)

103

Jimmy O’Brien Leinster

23

4 (1R)

263

Tommy O’Brien Leinster

22

4 (2R)

295

Hugh O’Sullivan Leinster

22

3 (3R)

41

Scott Penny Leinster

21

3

230

Dan Sheehan Leinster

22

3 (2R)

106

Michael Silvester Leinster

22

1 (R)

15

Liam Turner Leinster

21

2 (1R)

101

Thomas Ahern Munster

20

1 (1R)

19

Diarmuid Barron Munster

22

1 (1R)

13

Craig Casey Munster

21

4

282

Gavin Coombes Munster

22

4 (2R)

169

Jake Flannery Munster

21

1 (1R)

7

Ben Healy Munster

21

3 (1R)

171

John Hodnett Munster

21

3 (1R)

193

Keynan Knox Munster

21

1

53

Alex McHenry Munster

23

1

50

Calvin Nash Munster

23

2

160

Jack O’Sullivan Munster

22

1 (1R)

27

Roman Salanoa Munster

23

2 (2R)

19

Fineen Wycherley Munster

22

3 (1R)

152

Josh Wycherley Munster

21

2 (1R)

64

James Hume Ulster

22

3

235

Bill Johnston Ulster

23

3 (3R)

86

Michael Lowry Ulster

22

4 (1R)

215

Rob Lyttle Ulster

23

3

240

Stewart Moore Ulster

21

5

373

David McCann Ulster

20

1 (1R)

24

Ethan McIlroy Ulster

20

2 (2R)

83

Marcus Rea Ulster

23

2 (1R)

77