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We Got A Glimpse Of The Future Of Irish Rugby Last Weekend

We Got A Glimpse Of The Future Of Irish Rugby Last Weekend
By Conor O'Leary

When 2019 comes around, we might look back at Saturday 11th June 2016 as the day the future of Irish Rugby changed.

We caught a glimpse of the way forward, be it in the short term, long term, or other things that we can get genuinely excited about.

It's been nearly two years that Irish fans were calling for Jared Payne to play at fullback internationally - he did not disappoint. There's no way Schmidt can play Payne anywhere else anymore. His intelligent use of space gives Ireland another attacking dimension that Rob Kearney can't anymore, and he provides a solidity to the back that Simon Zebo doesn't have yet.

Payne seemed to glide into space between defenders, providing accurate offloads to Irish support runners to put South Africa under pressure. His move to fullback also allows for Luke Marshall to fulfill his promise.

It was so refreshing to see Marshall play so well. The former no.10 has so much talent, and when he's not being told to run into people, he can be so good. His distribution skills from 12, his ability to step in for the outhalf, and his size gives Ireland another option.

Despite it being just his seventh cap, Marshall was able to take so much pressure off Jackson. Wee Paddy delivered in spades. We can take a deep breath now and ease our dependence on Sexton following Jackson's proof that he belongs at this level.

It's still welcome though when an Irish outhalf steps up - and two did on Saturday. Ireland U20s were spectacular against New Zealand - and there's no doubt in my mind that the biggest difference between the underwhelming Six Nations campaign and those two huge wins is Bill Johnston.

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Bill Johnston oozes class. He's the future of Munster in the 10 jersey, perhaps as soon as next season. A shoulder injury might stop him from getting the Junior Player of the Year nomination - but between himself and Ross Byrne, as well as Jackson (still only 24) - Ireland are set at outhalf for the next 10 years.

We saw a lot of the future in that Ireland U20s. Ben Betts will surely be the cornerstone of the Munster scrum for years, Andrew Porter will pick up where Cian Healy left off. James Ryan is a phenomenon. Max Deegan plays like he's Jamie Heaslip. Greg Jones is another great flanker.
Stockdale and Deegan join Johnston in playing beyond their years.

All of a sudden, Ireland have options everywhere, with more coming through.

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See Also: Ireland's 2019 World Cup Squad Looks Very Different After The 2016 Six Nations

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