Emerging Ireland embark on their first ever IRB Nations Cup campaign in Bucharest, with three teams ranked inside the world’s top 20 – hosts Romania, Russia and Uruguay – providing the opposition for Dan McFarland’s men.
IRB NATIONS CUP: Friday, June 13
EMERGING IRELAND v RUSSIA, Stadionul National Arcul de Triumf, Bucharest, 4pm local time/2pm Irish time (live stream/TVR 2 (Romania))
Team News: Coached by Dan McFarland and Neil Doak and captained by Dominic Ryan, this will be Emerging Ireland’s first time to compete in the Nations Cup after finishing second at the Tbilisi Cup last summer.
There are five senior-capped players in the starting line-up for the Russia game – winger Craig Gilroy, half-backs Ian Keatley and Paul Marshall, prop Michael Bent and flanker Tommy O’Donnell.
Ulster duo Callum Black and Niall Annett join Bent in the front row with Connacht’s Michael Kearney and David Foley from Munster combining in the second row.
A back row containing skipper Ryan and O’Donnell is completed by Munster-bound number 8 Robin Copeland, who is joining the province from Cardiff Blues.
Keatley and Marshall lead a back-line full of exciting young talent, including centres Eoin Griffin (23) and Stuart McCloskey (21).
Munster’s Johne Murphy, who has made 11 Ireland ‘A’/Wolfhounds appearances, is the most experienced member of the starting back-three alongside wingers Gilroy (23) and Andrew Conway (22).
The selected Irish team has an average age of 25 and is backed up by an even younger replacements bench that includes 21-year-old half-backs Luke McGrath and JJ Hanrahan.
Meanwhile, Frenchman Raphael Saint-André will take charge of Russia for the first time in a competitive fixture when the Bears play Emerging Ireland.
Saint-André, the brother of France head coach Philippe, takes over from Kingsley Jones who decided to stand down from the role following the World Cup European qualifier play-off win over Germany.
There is a good deal of international experience in the selected Russian side. The backs division has a high number of caps, led by the 63-times capped full-back Igor Klyuchnikov and wily scrum half Alexander Ianiushkin (64 caps), who captained the team against Ireland at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
There is also some new talent pushing through in the form of centre German Davydov and out-half Ramil Gaysin, who have honed their skills in the Sevens game, and hooker Stanislav Selskiy.
6ft 6in lock Alexander Voytov captains the side and is part of a strongly-built pack which includes Russia’s 2011 Player of the Victor Gresev, the number 8 who had a short stint at London Wasps in 2012.
Ianiushkin, Gresev, flanker Andrei Garbuzov and lock Denis Antonov were starters in Russia’s 62-12 Pool C loss to Ireland at the last World Cup in Rotorua.
This is a crucial time of the season for the Russians who have made it through to the Repechage semi-finals as they bid to qualify for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. They are due to play the runners-up from the Africa Nations Cup, contested in Madagascar from June 28-July 6.
EMERGING IRELAND: Johne Murphy (Young Munster/Munster); Craig Gilroy (Dungannon/Ulster), Eoin Griffin (Galwegians/Connacht), Stuart McCloskey (Dungannon/Ulster), Andrew Conway (Blackrock College/Munster); Ian Keatley (Young Munster/Munster), Paul Marshall (Ballymena/Ulster); Callum Black (Malone/Ulster), Niall Annett (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Michael Bent (Dublin University/Leinster), Michael Kearney (Clontarf/Connacht), David Foley (UL Bohemians/Munster), Dominic Ryan (Lansdowne/Leinster) (capt), Tommy O’Donnell (UL Bohemians/Munster), Robin Copeland (Cardiff Blues).
Replacements: James Tracy (UCD/Leinster), John Ryan (Cork Constitution/Munster), Billy Holland (Cork Constitution/Munster), Sean Dougall (Dolphin/Munster), Luke McGrath (UCD/Leinster), JJ Hanrahan (UL Bohemians/Munster), Brendan Macken (Blackrock College/Leinster).
RUSSIA: Igor Klyuchnikov; Mikhail Babaev, German Davydov, Alexey Makovetskiy, Igor Galinovskiy; Ramil Gaysin, Alexander Ianiushkin; Alexey Volkov, Stanislav Selskiy, Sergey Sekisov, Alexander Voytov (capt), Denis Antonov, Andrey Garbuzov, Andrey Temnov, Victor Gresev.
Replacements: Valery Tsnobiladze, Grigory Tsnobiladze, Alexander Bezverkhov, Artem Fatakhov, Pavel Butenko, Alexey Shcherban, Sergey Ianiushkin.
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Pre-Match Quotes: Joey Miles (Emerging Ireland team manager) – “This is a serious tour and the national coaches will be represented at one of the games at least. In terms of the upcoming World Cup squad there are places up for grabs.
“We have got good footage on the Russians. We have a fair idea of what we’re up against and these teams put a huge amount of emphasis of the physical side of the game.
“No doubt, we will be challenged in the physical sense and they also placed a lot of emphasis on their back row play, the breakdown and that.
“To beat them we’ve got to back ourselves. We’ve got a game-plan which we will adhere to and we won’t go away from that unless we have to.
“Hopefully it will come down to our superior conditioning so that at the last quarter of the game it will become too much for the opposition.”
Emerging Ireland Nations Cup Fixtures –
Friday, June 13: Emerging Ireland v Russia, Stadionul National Arcul de Triumf, 4pm local time/2pm Irish time
Wednesday, June 18: Emerging Ireland v Uruguay, Stadionul National Arcul de Triumf, 4pm local time/2pm Irish time
Sunday, June 22: Romania v Emerging Ireland, Stadionul National Arcul de Triumf, 7pm local time/5pm Irish time
Ireland v Russia Test Meetings –
2002: Rugby World Cup qualifier: Russia 3 Ireland 35, Central Stadium, Krasnoyarsk
2011: Rugby World Cup Pool C: Ireland 62 Russia 12, Rotorua International Stadium, Rotorua