Griquas v Emerging Ireland (Toyota stadium, Friday, 12.45am, live on irishrugby.ie)
Head coach Simon Easterby has named three senior internationals, Shane Daly, Robert Baloucoune and Max Deegan in the Emerging Ireland team for the first of three matches in South Africa. A youthful look to the scratch side guarantees a more than casual interest in individual performance values.
Daly won two caps, against Georgia (2020) and Japan (2021), Baloucoune has the same number, making a try scoring debut against the USA at the Aviva Stadium last year and then winning a second cap against Argentina in the November Test series.
Deegan, who will captain the side, won his only cap to date against Wales in the 2020 Six Nations Championship but the soon to be 26-year-old – it is his birthday on Saturday – has been very unfortunate with injuries.
Speaking of which, the absence of Ciaran Frawley (shoulder) provides Jack Crowley with an opportunity to demonstrate whether he retains the capacity to dazzle as he did in an outstanding campaign for the Ireland Under-20 side in the abbreviated 2020 Six Nations.
Since then, his opportunities at Munster were very limited under the previous coach Johann van Graan. Ronan O’Gara is a fan and two years ago tried to persuade Crowley to join him at La Rochelle. The fruit of a halfback partnership with Nathan Doak will be pivotal to how the Irish side handle a fast and physical Griquas team.
Assistant coach John Fogarty said: “Our forwards are going to need a break [at times] so our management in that middle area of the pitch is going to be important. [We want to be] clean and quick in the exit. We don’t want to be stuck in an arm-wrestle, don’t [want to] overplay.
“When we get our opportunities, [we want] nice and decisive actions. The other thing is that we don’t want to see them [the halfbacks] too excited, we want to see them nice and calm, to stay in the plan and be able to lead and give some direction as well when the forwards need it. They have been very good during the week and that communication has been excellent.”
Fogarty confirmed that “coaches from talking to the provinces would have identified some leaders within the group; Max Deegan, Scott Penny, Joe McCarthy, Jack Crowley, Nathan Doak and Cian Prendergast”.
Props Josh Wycherley and Tom Clarkson are reunited in a green jersey for the first time since winning a Six Nations Grand Slam with the 2019 Irish 20s team, while hooker Tom Stewart is a player of great promise.
Joe McCarthy, who toured New Zealand with the Ireland senior team and played against the Maori All Blacks is joined by 22-year-old Tom Ahern in the second row. Deegan is joined in the backrow by Scott Penny and David McCann. The bench includes Hawaiian-born prop Roman Salanoa (24) and centre Antoine Frisch (26) from Fontainebleau.
Fogarty understands the nature of the challenge that the South African side will provide but pointed out that, given the relatively short time together, the priority for the Emerging Ireland coaches Easterby, himself, Mike Catt and Paul O’Connell, has been concentrating on prepping their own players.
“We want to be punchy as a pack. We certainly want to be mobile, but we want to show some physicality. We worked on a bit of that during the week. Our body height and our speed to things has been very good so they are areas we will be looking at.
“With such a short prep we have focused a huge amount on what we are doing. I’ve done a little scrum prep on that Griquas front row. They would have played in the semis and final of the Currie Cup. Part of the prep is understanding the threats a little bit, but we are going to focus on what we do and how we play our game.”
Griquas: M Jaer: R Oranje, J Cee Nel, T Kruger, L Obi; E Fouché, B Alexander; K Dube, S Westraadt, J Forwood; J Retief, A Liebenberg; N Otto, W Gouws, J Venter. Replacements: J Uys, M Mthabela, J Botha, G Muzanargwo, M Amiras, J Mulder, G Whitehead, A Davids.
Emerging Ireland: S Daly (Munster); C Nash (Munster), J Osborne (Leinster), S Moore (Ulster), R Baloucoune (Ulster); J Crowley (Munster), N Doak (Ulster); J Wycherley (Munster), T Stewart (Ulster), T Clarkson (Leinster); T Ahern (Munster), J McCarthy (Leinster); D McCann (Ulster), S Penny (Leinster), M Deegan (capt). Replacements: D Barron (Munster), M Milne (Leinster), R Salanoa (Munster), B Deeney (Leinster), J Hodnett (Munster), M McDonald (Ulster), J Flannery (Ulster), A Frisch (Munster).