How much does Joe love thee, Webb Ellis Cup? Let me count the ways. 5 full-backs, 11 wingers, 10 midfielders, 6 out-halves, 5 scrum-halves, 3 loose-heads, 7 hookers, 5 tight-heads, 9 locks and 11 back-rowers. 72 and counting. That’s the number of players that Joe Schmidt has selected - for trial and on experience - since the start of the 2016 Six Nations right up this week’s announcement of the 32-man Ireland Tour Squad for Australia.
If ever the phrase, ‘never die wondering’, matched a man’s purpose, Joe Schmidt is your guy. His Oz squad has 2 more uncapped players for use during the month of June. It’s been a twisting, turning road at times as his unending search for talent has looked at every player available to him within the Irish system and playing in Ireland, capping over 30 players in the last two seasons. In comparison, Michael Cheika has blooded 20 new players in the test arena since Australia finished runners-up at the 2015 World Cup.
So let’s put the spotlight on his young bloods - the players whose names may not be so familiar to Southern fans, but who could likely be running out on Aussie tracks next month to prepare them better for Japan next year. All of them are 26 or younger. I’ll included links to video clips, where available (made by others so apologies in advance for any unwelcome music, over-exuberant editing, etc)
Rob Kearney (83 caps) at full-back is having a new lease of life this season and is now the Irish player with most honours, including 4 Six Nations titles (2 Grand Slams), 3 PRO 12 titles, and 4 European Cup medals. Sitting on the bench to replace him at some point might be Schmidt’s most recent cap selection, hot-stepper, 20-year old, Jordan Larmour - young, raw and exciting to watch, he’ll get a lot of learning on his first tour - even if he doesn’t play much of a part.
Alternatively, Munster’s Andrew Conway (6 caps) is a calm presence at the back, yet spiky and aggressive in defence, with an unexpected shift of speed on the wing that keeps him scoring tries, particularly this one for Munster to defeat Toulon in the European Cup .