The Emerging Ireland squad have arrived in South Africa ahead of their three game tour that is set to kick-off this Friday when Simon Easterby’s side take on the Griquas, followed by games against the Pumas and the Cheetahs.
This tour has split opinion amongst Ireland fans. For some, this is an opportunity to impress the Ireland coaches and gain experience of an international set-up.
However, it also raises the question of whether there players would gain more from game time in the URC, especially with inter-provincial derbies on the horizon.
Nevertheless, this is an opportunity that players will hope to grab with both hands, so here is what to look out for in the Emerging Ireland tour in South Africa.
What to look out for on the Emerging Ireland tour
Antoine Frisch's Time To Shine
One of the most exciting prospects in Irish right now is Munster centre Antoine Frisch. Signed from Bristol in the centre, the 26-year-old has electric pace and strength, and could provide the spark that Munster have been lacking so far this season. A strong season for Munster after this tour could see him become a late bolter for Andy Farrell’s World Cup side.
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) March 26, 2022
Experiment at 10?
This tour looked set to see Ciarán Frawley play regularly at fly-half, after impressing in the summer games against the Maori All Blacks. Munster’s Jack Crowley is the most experienced number 10 in the squad, and will benefit from playing time in this tour, with Ben Healy and Joey Carbery currently ahead of him in the pecking order at Munster.
While he is a scrum-half, Ulster’s Nathan Doak could be worth a try at 10. The 20-year-old burst on to the scene last season, with his kicks in open play and off the tee impressing fans and pundits, while his awareness on the pitch shows years beyond his wisdom.
— RTÉ Rugby (@RTErugby) October 11, 2021
Ireland haven’t produced the Antoine Dupont/Morgan Parra type player before, and this tour could provide the perfect opportunity to show Doak’s qualities in the number 10 jersey. If his performances continue to the level they have been, he may be too good to leave out.
Issues At Prop
A problem area for Ireland is lack of options at prop, particularly at loosehead. Should anything happen to Andrew Porter, the next in line is two injury-prone players in Cian Healy and Dave Kilcoyne, who are also approaching the end of their careers.
This Emerging Ireland tour could go some way to providing a solution with young talent at loose head on display.
One player who could benefit from a strong tour is Josh Wycherley. The Munster loosehead prop has impressed when given the chance by Munster and could be their long-term option at loosehead. The 23-year-old is strong in the scrum and his ball carrying is improving in every game. A big tour from Wycherley could give Andy Farrell a lot to think about heading into 2023, particularly if there’s injuries at loosehead.
Maybe the best story from the weekend...
21-year-old prop Josh Wycherley on his #HeinekenChampionsCup debut for @Munsterrugby, up against Rabah Slimani 👀
And he was dominant in the scrum, providing a platform for a famous comeback!
Bravo 👏 pic.twitter.com/54Mez2dTyL
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) December 21, 2020
At tight head, Sam Illo is ready to show why is so highly rated at Connacht, while Munster's Roman Salanoa could give Munster something to think about with a strong tour.
Baloucoune Out To Make A Statement
Arguably the most talented player on this tour, Ulster winger Robert Baloucoune has become a key player for Dan McFarland’s side.
If it wasn’t for injuries and competition for places, Baloucoune would have added to his two caps for Ireland. The 25-year-old will look to show the Ireland coaches why he can be a regular starter for Ireland in the future, with his electric pace and eye for the try line a gift for any team to have.
— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) July 12, 2021
Deep down, he may want to be lining out for Ulster against the likes of Jordan Larmour and Jimmy O’Brien to make a statement, but having the experience of an international set-up will be of huge benefit.
The Next Generation
While some names will stand out to fans, the next generation will be given the opportunity to showcase why they are the future of Irish rugby in this Emerging Ireland tour.
Among them is Connacht’s Cathal Forde, who made his professional debut for the province earlier this year. Forde can play in both fly-half and centre, having impressed with the Ireland U20s in 2021.
Joining him at Connacht after the tour is Chay Mullins, who was a key part of the Grand Slam U20 side this year. The 20-year-old can play in both the wing and full-back, and was also part of the Ireland sevens side at the sevens world cup.
— RTÉ Rugby (@RTErugby) February 4, 2022
At hooker, Tom Stewart has already had an impact for Ulster, receiving Player of the Match in Ulster opening round win over Connacht.