Two more of the Ireland Under-20s’ 2017 group could get capped during the Bank of Ireland Nations Series, as Calvin Nash and Ciaran Frawley both look to make the breakthrough at Test level.
Of that U-20 squad from five years ago, Jordan Larmour, Ronan Kelleher, Caelan Doris, Gavin Coombes, Fineen Wycherley and Paul Boyle have gone on to play for the senior national team.
It has certainly been an eventful few weeks for Nash, from his try-scoring contribution to Emerging Ireland’s successful tour to South Africa, to his first Ireland call-up and the announcement of his Munster contract extension.
Back in a green jersey for the first time since his Ireland U-20 days, the national coaches liked what they saw from Nash in Bloemfontein but he was admittedly ‘shocked’ to be promoted to the senior squad.
He will always remember the time he found out he had made the cut for the November Tests. He was in a shop getting fitted for his Munster suit when one of his team-mates told him to check his email.
“I was shocked, to be honest,” he explained. “I saw I was selected in the main squad and I was just delighted. I told my girlfriend (Ciara) straight away and she was actually crying in the store.
“I was telling her to relax! But it was great. My family are very proud of me, so I’m delighted now to just get going.”
Those closest to the 25-year-old Limerick native know how hard he has worked for this opportunity. He has toiled away through injury lay-offs and times when Munster selection has not gone his way with Keith Earls and Andrew Conway proving tough to budge.
He admits it was ‘kind of frustrating’ to not be able to put a run of games together under the previous Munster coaching ticket, although he did start against three of the South African sides and Leinster last season.
A dead leg prevented him from lining out against Leo Cullen’s men last Saturday, but he has been reintegrated into Ireland training this week and is clearly raring to go.
Commenting on how it has been at Munster and how beneficial the Emerging Ireland tour was for him, the Young Munster flyer said: “I felt like sometimes I was getting a bit of momentum and then I’d pick up a knock and it would set me back a bit or it would be a big game, so ‘Earlsie’ and ‘Bomber’ (Conway) would be picked.
“You’re trying to keep that momentum with you, even though I might have only played every four weeks. I wouldn’t get that much of a string of games.
“This year the lads have been out (injured) and, with Emerging Ireland as well, I’ve had a lot of games. Beside the two pre-season games, I have three or four games already which is real good.
I feel like I’ve been able to have a flow to my game and stay in it that way. I did have a good bit of self-belief that I did have the potential to get to Ireland.
“I just wondered when it would be or would I get the opportunity to represent Ireland or even get up to camp. With Emerging Ireland happening just a few weeks ago, my main thought was to just get into main camp.
“Try to make that a routine and then get your first cap. It came quicker than I thought it would but I am delighted.”
His rewarding experience with Emerging Ireland, and familiarity with seven of his Munster colleagues in camp and a number of former Ireland Under-20 team-mates, has helped Nash to quickly acclimatise.
For skilful Leinster back Frawley, this is his third senior camp. He was first involved for last November’s Autumn Nations Series and really made his mark during the summer tour, playing a key role in the final week win over the Māori All Blacks.
Having a close-up view for the historic series win in New Zealand has made him even hungrier for a Test debut, with the Skerries man possibly set to play for Ireland ‘A’ on Friday week before earning that coveted first cap against Fiji.
“We were only watching a video this morning of our time over in New Zealand and just all the special moments we had off the pitch after the Tests,” said Frawley, speaking on media day on Tuesday.
“I suppose when you’re part of it, and playing the Tests and winning the series it’s incredible and it just gives you that bit of hunger to be a part of it.
“I know, obviously, I played in two Māori games, but the Test games are the big ones that you want to throw the jersey on for. Hopefully this time around, third time lucky, we might put on the jersey for a Test game.”
Frawley’s ability to play at out-half, centre and full-back makes him a valuable asset. He has laughed off the nickname of ‘Swiss Army Frawley’, while being mindful that the utility back berth is a good fit for a player of his talents.
“Just do my best, whether it is playing the Ireland ‘A’ game and go from there, play well in that and maybe look at one of the Test games, Fiji or Australia (later next month).
“If the body is feeling good, back to Leinster, a few big games with them, European Cup and there’s also a Six Nations before that World Cup. There’s a lot of games coming up so it would be hard to pinpoint one position.
“It’s kind of the best of both worlds, isn’t it? It’s nice to have a position but also in the back of your mind you have a World Cup coming up and the versatility card can always benefit you in terms of selection for that.
“Look, I suppose I can’t be – I don’t know if too greedy is the word – but I’m happy to play minutes and that’s the main thing for me at the moment, I haven’t played a lot this season so far.
“It’s just about getting the minutes, whether that be at 10, 12 or 15, which are the three positions I’ve been playing over the last season or two.”
Frawley has praised the influence that Jonathan Sexton has on both Leinster and Ireland as the 37-year-old talisman begins his final twelve months as a professional player.
At 6ft 3in and over 15 stone, Frawley is certainly a player in the mould of Sexton. He is very much a contender to replace Sexton at out-half for province and country in the long-term, and is clearly enjoying learning from one of the best in the business.
“Johnny’s unreal. We’re so lucky to have him in Leinster and here (with Ireland), speaking for all the lads. Without knowing it, we’re actually learning a lot off him, you can see the way lads are playing is very similar to Johnny,” noted the 24-year-old.
“Picking up little things like holding the ball at the line, that last second that he does so well. But then he’ll also give you a lot of constructive criticism. He wants to get the best out of you.
“When lads are playing with Johnny they always bring their game to the next level because they understand the standard they are playing with as well. He’s brilliant to have.”