There have been few times in the past where Irish provincial rugby has been as healthy as it is currently. Irish teams have dominated European rugby in recent years, viagra with Munster and Leinster winning five Heineken cups between them, rx and Ulster reaching the final in 2012. Connacht have even improved on the European stage; finishing third in their group with some great performances.
Irish stars are now in big demand, with Heaslip and Sean O’Brien both being courted by French clubs and Johnny Sexton being coaxed away to Racing Metro last summer. But these Irish stars are not anomalies and stem from a fully functioning grassroots rugby development system. Both school and club rugby are producing a stream of quality young players. For example, players like Robbie Henshaw – Connacht, Paddy Jackson – Ulster, Simon Zebo – Munster and Jack McGrath – Leinster – too name but a few.
Many more players that have yet to break into their respective provincial first team are showing great potential from the academies and at club level. At the moment UCD RFC is a fantastic breeding ground for fresh Leinster talent. The attacking Collidge team is the perfect atmosphere for players to develop, experiment and grow their game. This well organised functioning system allows the stars of the future the necessary game time to hone their skills. The Leinster Academy is also famous for its conveyor belt style in which it integrates young Irish players into the senior Leinster squad on a consistent basis.
This is mirrored in other provinces, with Munster seeking to replace the more experienced players that have begun to move on with new youngsters. Previous youth players that are now firmly in the senior team are Conor Murray, who played for Garryowen and Keith Earls from Thomond RFC. Other Munster players on the up include Rory Scannell and Darren Sweetnam of Dolphin RFC and out-half Johnny Holland of Cork Con. Ulster also have a rich pedigree of youth, and some of their rising stars that have already broken into Irish squads include Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshal and Craig Gilroy. It’s clear Irish club rugby is in fine form as it continues to replace any outgoing internationals with better and better home-grown talent.
Connacht Rugby is currently reaping the benefits of placing the emphasis on trusting Irish players. The young team has improved and made a name for the traditionally weaker province as a team now on the up. The all-Irish qualified back-line started against Leinster in the RaboPro 12 last month had an average age of 22, impressing many with their performance. Connacht’s improvement is the result of much hard work at school and club level in the province. Club rugby plays a big part in uncovering future gems in the West, with Galwegians, Buccaneers and Corinthians all represented strongly in the senior team and academy. Current players tipped to swap the green of Connacht for that of Ireland in years to come are Robbie Henshaw, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion and Darragh Leader.
It would be a huge benefit for Irish rugby to have a place where upcoming Irish players who cannot yet break into the first fifteen of the other three provinces can play top level professional rugby every week. Connacht therefore must continue to re-brand as the home of exciting young Irish rugby, and move away from bringing in older players in the twilight of their careers like Dan Parks.
Upon advancing from the Leinster Academy, some Collidge players with Leinster and Ireland aspirations will have a tough fight for a place in the Leinster squad. They could benefit from a stint at Connacht to ploy their trade at Pro12 level before moving back to Leinster or elsewhere. It may be that any future loss of Irish stars to France will therefore not be so catastrophic, because there is a steady amount of young Irish talent just waiting to take their places.