If there's one thing Irish sport could learn from America and Australia, it's the brilliance of a draft. For hype, pageantry and excitement, you can't beat NFL or NBA draft. We've thought about a GAA draft in the past. But what about a rugby draft? Imagine for a moment an alternative universe where the triumphant U20s Grand Slam winners were drafted by the four provinces after the Six Nations. Imagine the intrigue and speculation that would surround Irish rugby draft night. Well, we have...
Welcome to the 2023 Irish Rugby Draft, where the four provinces of Connacht, Munster, Ulster, and Leinster, will choose the young men who they believe will add talent and value to their squads, and bring them continued success in the years to come.
The players will be selected from those who recently played for the Ireland U20s in their 2023 Grand Slam winning Six Nations campaign, and selection turns will be based on last season's URC standings.
As always, the prestige of going first in the draft is an honour for players and a badge that will help fuel their confidence as they make the journey into the senior ranks.
Sam Prendergast, Ruadhán Quinn, and Brian Gleeson are the top three recruits from their class, with each man worthy of the number one pick after excellent campaigns.
Disclaimer: this is a mock draft, and more of a fun thought exercise than a serious suggestion. For obvious reasons an NFL/NBA/AFL style draft would not work in Irish rugby. Players have already come up through sub-academies and underage teams for their provinces and usually go to college near their homes. It would also greatly benefit Connacht (a good thing), but would be detrimental to Leinster given that they produce most of the talent, and they would no doubt object to such a system.
We're obviously going to ignore the fact that these players are all involved in various provincial academies, and in the case of Ruadhán Quinn, actual professional rugby players.
Connacht - Sam Prendergast (Out-half)
This is what drafting is all about; weighing up your teams needs vs the talent of the players available vs how URC ready they are.
Connacht need big, heavy ball carriers - of which there are plenty from this U20s crop - and they are also in desperate need of scrum half depth, with the imminent departure of Kieran Marmion.
Out half depth is slightly less of an issue, but Jack Carty is nearing the end of his prime, and Connacht will be thin in this area if he was to get injured.
Given the rarity of elite out halves, and Prendergast is the best we have seen for Ireland at U20s level, he gets the nod over Ruadhán Quinn, Brian Gleeson, and Fintan Gunne.
With what we have seen from Prendergast last summer and over the Six Nations, he could soon challenge Carty for his jersey and would have an immediate impact at the province.
This would also re-unite Sam with older brother Cian, which would be tremendous all in all.
Remember that name my friends 🔥 https://t.co/g5MtaqVakp
— Sonny Bill Williams (@SonnyBWilliams) February 4, 2023
Munster - Ruadhán Quinn (Back Row)
Are Munster fairly stacked at back row at the minute? Yes. This matters not, however, when you have two potentially generational talents in Quinn and Brian Gleeson.
One could argue that Gleeson's size advantage will diminish when in the senior ranks, or, what is probably the more likely scenario, he will flourish even more in Munster's world class set up, around world class players.
It's a tight call, but given that Quinn has already shone for the Munster senior team, he gets the nod.
His hat-trick showing in the rout of Scotland was possibly the best of any player throughout the tournament.
Ulster - Brian Gleeson (Number Eight)
A no brainer of a pick.
Ulster have struggled for years to produce quality forwards, and have suffered from a lack of back five forward options, while always having a steady stream of top class backs.
Gleeson would not have to worry about URC game time next season, and would probably be capped during the current one.
Leinster - Paddy McCarthy (Tighthead Prop)
McCarthy's handling skills and involvement levels during the Six Nations were atypical of the modern prop.
He also played a substantial role in a dominant scrum - helped massively of course by Ireland's pack back five - and would settle in nicely at Leinster alongside his brother Joe.
George Hadden was arguably the better of the two during the Six Nations, but given Andrew Porter's age and Michael Milne's recent run of excellent form - which saw him get called up to the Ireland senior squad - McCarthy is the pick.
Connacht - Diarmuid Mangan (Second Row/Back Row)
Tall, athletic, powerful, and in the mould of Ryan Baird. Mangan is exactly the type of player that Connacht are in need of.
While the services of Fintan Gunne - who has just been added to Leinster's Champions Cup squad - could be invaluable also, Mangan's ball carrying would wreak havoc in the URC.
His solo effort against Scotland gave a glimpse into what he can deliver.
SCO 7-54 IRE
Diarmuid Mangan was only on the pitch for a few seconds before he burst forward to score Ireland's eighth try of the match.
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— RTÉ Rugby (@RTErugby) March 10, 2023
Munster - George Hadden (Loosehead Prop)
A Hugh Cooney or Henry McErlean could do wonders under the tutelage of Mike Prendergast.
But building front-row depth is one of Munster's main concerns at the minute.
They do have options good options with Dave Kilcoyne, Jeremy Loughman, Josh Wycherley, and Liam O'Connor, but given Kilcoyne's age and Hadden's class, it is a pick that could have huge benefit in two to three years.
Ulster - James McNabney (Back Row)
Again, there's not much to be said about this pick, other than that Ulster need all the powerful back rows and second rows they can lay their hands on.
While McNabney was overshadowed by Quinn and Gleeson, he was impressive throughout the competition, and one of the stand outs in the opening win over Wales.
Leinster - Fintan Gunne (Scrum Half)
Gunne has shown some of the qualities that has seen Jamison Gibson-Park become a key member of Andy Farrell's Grand Slam winning squad.
He looks to speed up the game and take advantage of any faults or lapses in concentration in a team's defence, and has an eye for the try-line.
With Luke McGrath and Gibson-Park in their 30s, he could potentially be part of the first choice 23 in two to three seasons.
What a kick from Fintan Gunne! 🎯#IREvENG #U20SixNations pic.twitter.com/50XLJJclFp
— Virgin Media Sport (@VMSportIE) March 19, 2023
Connacht - Gus McCarthy (Hooker)
This is a pick for the future.
Connacht couldn't really justify a back three or centre selection, and they are in good health in the second row with the rise of the Murray brothers and Joe Joyce.
McCarthy - who has also been called up to Leinster's Champions Cup squad - and Dylan Tierney Martin could be Connacht's version of Leinster's one-two punch of Dan Sheehan and Rónan Kelleher.
Munster - Hugh Cooney (Centre)
Munster's pick of Hadden pays off with Cooney falling to them in the third round.
Cooney has also just been added to Leinster's Champions Cup squad, which shows how highly regarded he is, and with Malakai Fekitoa departing Munster, there is more than enough room for a skilful centre in Graham Rowntree's plans.
Ulster - Conor O'Tighearnaigh (Second Row)
A third easy pick for Ulster.
A veteran of the 2022 Grand Slam winning class, O'Tighearnaigh displayed excellent line out skills this year and can clearly add a serious push in the scrum.
Leinster - Hugh Gavin (Wing)
Leinster are in no desperate need in any position on the field, but a big man like Gavin could make the step up sooner than most.
Leinster are not bursting at the seams with wing depth either.
𝐓𝐇𝐀𝐓 𝐈𝐒 𝐋𝐎𝐕𝐄𝐋𝐘! 😍
Sam Prendergast with a stunning cross field kick to Hugh Gavin who gets his second try of the game!
☘️ 31-10 🏴#IREvENG #U20SixNations pic.twitter.com/SDmLMsz3E9
— Virgin Media Sport (@VMSportIE) March 19, 2023
Connacht - Fiachna Barrett (Tightead Prop)
We didn't see much of Barrett over the course of the competition, but he had a tidy 50 minutes in his start against Scotland, with some nice touches.
He's a big man and clearly a fan of the gym, which always helps.
Munster - Henry McErlean (Fullback)
The St. Michael's College alumnus didn't start the opening game, but was excellent from then onwards and the stand out in the back-three.
With Keith Earls getting on in years and Andrew Conway's injury issues, McErlean could sniff some early game time at the province while battling it out with Pa Campbell.
𝐌𝐀𝐆𝐈𝐂 𝐅𝐑𝐎𝐌 𝐈𝐑𝐄𝐋𝐀𝐍𝐃!! 🟢
Ruadhan Quinn finishing a quality attack!
Bonus point secured for @IrishRugby!
🏴 20-29 ☘️#WALvIRE | #U20SixNations pic.twitter.com/4BfjLj3HSP
— Virgin Media Sport (@VMSportIE) February 3, 2023
Ulster - Jacob Sheahan (Back Row)
Jacob, who is the nephew of Frankie Sheahan, didn't see a too much game time either, but there's no harm in Ulster taking a punt on another forward.
Leinster - James Nicholson (Wing/Fullback)
Leinster, despite their enormous depth, still manage to give game time to their swarms of young talent, and Nicholson could no doubt line out for their 'A' side if URC time is too hard to come by.
A quick and tidy winger who started in four out of the five games in the Six Nations.
Connacht - Oscar Cawley (Scrum Half)
Munster - Danny Sheahan (Hooker)
Ulster - John Devine (Centre)
Leinster - Ike Anagu (Utility Back)
Here's how a run-down of the draft: