Fresh faces in Ireland summer squad, Springboks coaching continuity with Coetzee
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | April 14, 2016
Joe Schmidt’s rebuilding of the Ireland rugby union team continues with an extra sprinkling of youth in his ranks after a 44-man training squad was announced ahead of the Summer Tour to South Africa.
The Irish had been dual defending Six Nations champions, but finished the 2016 spring campaign in third place behind Grand Slam winners England and then Wales.
Coral make Ireland 9/2 chances to regain that crown in the 2017 edition of the Six Nations, and we will know infinitely more about their future prospects once they have tested themselves against the Springboks in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth this June.
No go for recently returned Bowe
Although the injury crisis that appeared to dash Irish hopes of a third consecutive crown before a ball was kicked has abated, Schmidt is still without star winger Tommy Bowe, who has just returned to action after sustaining a serious knee injury at the Rugby World Cup last autumn.
Joining Bowe with a watching brief to events in the Southern Hemisphere this summer will be flanker Chris Henry, who played no part in the Six Nations competition just ended – despite squad selection – because of the emergence of newcomers CJ Stander and Josh van der Flier in the back row.
Darren Cave’s experience at centre isn’t required either, yet Ireland ranks are boosted by the returns of forward duo Iain Henderson and Peter O’Mahony.
Both are expect to have big roles in the second and back rows respectively in the three Test series against South Africa, if they can prove their fitness following lengthy lay-offs.
Hotshot Healy gets call
In-form uncapped wing Matt Healy and utility back Stuart Olding are among the other call-ups, with centre Garry Ringrose, scrum half Luke McGrath and South Africa-born Quinn Roux getting maiden involvement in the Irish set-up.
Healy is the Pro 12’s leading tryscorer, crossing nine times for Connacht in the campaign to date. Breaking onto the Ireland roster at 27 may be a little late given his youth career back in 2009, but he is selected by Schmidt on merit.
Leinster centre Ringrose is among the youngest in the party at 21, while the versatile Olding is 23.
Schmidt siding with such youth suggests he wants to take a touring party that will not be frightened of the physical specimens that play for the Springboks, but kicker Johnny Sexton should expect to be targeted again.
Will Springboks have fit fly half?
Ireland’s first-choice fly half will have an interesting head-to-head clash with opposite number Pat Lambie, who is set to have the 10 jersey unopposed because of injury to other South Africa kicker Handre Pollard.
Lambie, like Sexton, has a patchy fitness record, though, and it remains to be seen what sort of protection either the Irish or Springboks can afford their fly halves.
South Africa have confirmed former assistant Allister Coetzee as their new head coach, stepping up to replace Heyneke Meyer, who quit after a third-place finish at the Rugby World Cup.
Coetzee could choose or chop and change captain
“I am very excited and grateful for this opportunity,” Coetzee said upon his appointment. “This job comes with a huge amount of responsibility because our passionate fans rightfully demand the best from the Springboks at all times.”
One of Coetzee’s first decisions as Springboks boss is to choose a skipper, with flanker Schalk Burger – soon to arrive at Saracens – a leading candidate according to domestic reports, alongside Toulon back row Duane Vermeulen.
Lambie might also lead his country, however, and it is perfectly possible Coetzee could test all their credentials or those of others as captains as South Africa host Schmidt’s side.
A Springbok transformation?
Rugby President Oregan Hoskins sees Coetzee taking on the top job as a watershed for the South African game. “Allister’s appointment marks the changing of the guard at the top of Springbok rugby,” he said.
“He was the outstanding candidate in terms of his rugby credentials, his understanding of our unique South African transformation imperatives and also in the image he will present as Springbok coach.”
Whatever the gloriously vague “transformation imperatives” mean, an announcement for the first Springboks roster of Coetzee’s tenure is pencilled in for May 28th, with the first Test against Ireland coming up a fortnight later on Saturday, June 11th.
Ireland training squad ahead of Summer Tour
Forwards: Finlay Bealham (Connacht), Rory Best (Ulster), Sean Cronin (Leinster), Tadgh Furlong (Leinster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Rob Herring (Ulster), David Kilcoyne (Munster), Jack McGrath (Leinster), Jordi Murphy (Leinster), Sean O’Brien (Leinster), Tommy O’Donnell (Munster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Quinn Roux (Connacht), Rhys Ruddock (Leinster), Donnacha Ryan (Munster), CJ Stander (Munster), Richardt Strauss (Leinster), Devin Toner (Leinster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster).
Backs: Keith Earls (Munster), Craig Gilroy (Ulster), Matt Healy (Connacht), Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Paddy Jackson (Ulster), David Kearney (Leinster), Rob Kearney (Leinster), Ian Madigan (Leinster), Kieran Marmion (Connacht), Luke Marshall (Ulster), Stuart McCloskey (Ulster), Fergus McFadden (Leinster), Luke McGrath (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster), Stuart Olding (Ulster), Jared Payne (Ulster), Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Garry Ringrose (Leinster), Johnny Sexton (Leinster), Andrew Trimble (Ulster), Simon Zebo (Munster).
Check out Coral’s rugby union archive for more on the international scene.