T minus two and a half days until the Irish rugby team kick off their Summer Tour to New Zealand. The side will begin the tour next Wednesday against the Maori All Blacks at the Waikato Stadium in Hamilton at 8.05 am.
We wrote previously how Andy Farrell’s squad is largely uncontroversial with few major complaints. But, within the chosen 40 there are a few with a little bit extra to prove. A few with an added narrative attached to their performances.
Whether they feel it themselves or not, the wider rugby public, the pundits and the fans, want to see something more from them.
Can they raise their game to a new level? Can they bring provincial form to the biggest stage? Can they reclaim former glory? Or can they show that they are better than the other guy and worthy of their place in the squad?
His performance against France in the Six Nations promised so much. He proved that day that he could marshal the team against top opposition in a tough environment. Unfortunately he found it difficult to build on that game. His performance in his start against Italy was hard to gauge, and he only got eight minutes combined against England and Scotland.
He also endured a difficult season with Munster where many were calling for him to be replaced by Ben Healy in the starting XV, and his last two performances in big games against Leinster and Ulster were disappointingly poor.
However, his form was questionable before that France match, suggesting that the Ireland camp brings out the best in him.
He is Farrell’s chosen back up to Sexton, and with the World Cup drawing ever closer he needs one start against the All Blacks. And in this start we need to see another assured showing to put the nations at ease.
Fort Knox could be renamed ‘Ireland’s three first choice centres’, as they seem to be both equally as impenetrable.
Hume seems the likeliest man so far to break into the Ringrose/Aki/Henshaw hierarchy, and his domestic form has been the best of any Irish centre this season If he can rise to the occasion against the Maori on Wednesday (where he will likely start), he could force his way into the Test team for one of the big three games.
While his Ireland minutes have been few so far, his appearances have been underwhelming considering his talent and the expectations. Can he prove that he can take his provincial form to the international stage?
It has been a mildly frustrating year for Coombes, one where he hasn't quite hit the heights of 2020/21. He missed the Champions Cup quarter-final loss to Toulouse through injury, where his presence could have made all the difference. While Alex Kendellen has threatened his position as Munster’s leading young back row talent.
He possesses a rare ball carrying ability which is complemented by a soft pair of hands, and much like Hume we want to this ability translated onto the international stage.
He is guaranteed at least a start against the Maori, and will probably feature at least once in the Test 23.
Easily the most controversial of Andy Farrell’s 40 selections, although if you dig deeper the pick is understandable.
Nonetheless, he has been brought ahead of his brother who starts ahead of him Leinster, and the in-form Billy Burns and Ben Healy who have both seen much more game time at 10 this season and at a higher level.
There were signs towards the end of the season that he was regaining his mojo, the likes of which we saw during his early Leinster days and in his Irish debut.
He has been handed a golden opportunity now to distance between himself and the other pretenders and he needs to deliver during whatever minutes he is given.
Ryan has regained some of the form that he lost in 2020 and 2021. However, he still hasn’t returned to the heights of 2018 which saw him anointed as the next great Irish rugby player. Expectations have also been curbed, and his physical presence has been questioned after certain Leinster losses in European knockout games.
He will have more than one chance on the tour to face the the best of the best in Brodie Retallick and Simon Whitlock Should he get the better of them in one of the tests, it will be difficult to question his ability.