Ireland A players handed a platform to press claims for Fiji and beyond

Fixture offers Farrell chance to hand out a debut or three, and to permit others to add to senior caps

Ireland A v All Blacks Development XV, RDS, Friday, 7.45pm – Live on Virgin Media Two

As a playing thread it links two matches against Maori All Blacks in the summer, the Emerging Ireland Tour to South Africa and tonight’s game at the RDS, each potentially part of a preamble for a handful of Irish players to winning a first cap against Fiji at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday week.

There is nothing frivolous or unfocused about the way in which Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has mapped out the last five months to examine the credentials of players 30-50 in terms of the depth chart when it comes to the national team. Injuries have helped to inform some of the decisions.

There is an overlap in personnel terms in the journey outlined but irrespective of what happens against South Africa tomorrow, the Fijian game will offer Farrell scope to hand out a debut or three, and to permit others to add to a modest tally of senior caps. The RDS will provide a final benchmarking exercise.


It would have been easier for Farrell and his assistant coaches to hand over the preparation of the Ireland A team to another group but the decision to take a hands-on approach, to have the extended squad train and stay together during the week and to move into the Shelbourne hotel as one group looks like a calculated undertaking to foster an esprit de corps.

There are so many plot lines to this match from an Irish perspective, James Hume playing at inside centre, Jacob Stockdale hoping that this match provides a stepping stone to retrieving the green number 11 jersey or for Ciarán Frawley to impress as an outhalf. His versatility is a cherished attribute, but he deserves a prolonged shot at mastering one position.

Craig Casey would not have been an obvious candidate to captain the team for those outside the national coaching group, albeit acknowledging that his infectious enthusiasm and on-pitch chirping are saleable qualities when it comes to the role. At least he won’t have anyone grabbing him by the collar when he opts to take a quick tap penalty.

Farrell said: “We broached the subject straight away and it was unanimous it would be Craig. Why? Because it’s him being himself, he’s a natural leader, just the way he handles himself on a daily basis in and around everyone.

“He’s the ultimate professional, he prepares really well, and he’s been in this environment for some time now, so the responsibility is a nice step in his journey as well.” Jimmy O’Brien will hope to nudge his way closer to that first cap, an ambition shared with Farrell, Jeremy Loughman, Joe McCarthy, and Cian Prendergast, all of whom were in New Zealand during the summer.

Gavin Thornbury’s promotion for the unfortunate Thomas Ahern is recognition for a player with the qualities to play Test rugby, while young centre Jamie Osborne displayed an aptitude to progress quickly on the Emerging Ireland tour. For Michael Lowry, Nick Timoney, Gavin Coombes, Tom O’Toole, and Dave Heffernan Test rugby has come in the former of an appetiser; they want to tuck in.

On the bench, everyone has something to play for, not in an aspirational sense but practically, tangibly; Max Deegan, Jack Crowley, and Calvin Nash used their time in South Africa productively to excel while an injury free Marty Moore is an asset to any team.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Damian McKenzie, TJ Perenara and Patrick Tuipolotu are an example of the marquee names in the All Blacks Development XV but players like Braydon Ennor and Shaun Stevenson, Aidan Ross, who made his senior New Zealand debut during the summer against Ireland simply underline just how good the visiting team.

The head coach, Leon McDonald, an elegant All Blacks centre/fullback in his time said: “With a short lead in to this first match, we’ve balanced out experience with younger rising talent. The players are all out to showcase their immense skills and strength as a team, they’re excited to get this opportunity to play on an international scale and to represent New Zealand in what will be a proud moment for players and their whanau.

“We are anticipating a huge challenge from Ireland A. They are a top tier, physical team with strong attack and defence, as we saw earlier this year against the Māori All Blacks.”

IRELAND A: M Lowry (Ulster); C Nash (Munster), J Osborne (Leinster), J Hume (Ulster), J Stockdale (Ulster); Ciarán Frawley (Leinster), C Casey (Munster, capt); J Loughman (Munster), D Heffernan (Connacht), T O’Toole (Ulster); J McCarthy (Leinster), Gavin Thornbury (Connacht); C Prendergast (Connacht), N Timoney (Ulster), G Coombes (Munster)

Replacements: D Barron (Munster), D Kilcoyne (Munster), M Moore (Ulster), R Molony (Leinster), M Deegan (Leinster), C Blade (Connacht), J Crowley (Munster), S Daly (Munster)

All Blacks Development XV: R Love (Hurricanes); S Stevenson (Chiefs), B Ennor (Crusaders), R Tuivasa-Sheck (Blues), AJ Lam (Blues); D McKenzie (Chiefs), TJ Perenara (Hurricanes); A Ross (Chiefs), B McAlister (Crusaders), T Mafileo (Hurricanes); J Dickson (Highlanders), P Tuipolotu (Blues); D Gardiner (Crusaders), L Jacobsen (Chiefs), M Mikaele-Tu’u (Highlanders)

Replacements: T Thompson (Chiefs), F Brewis (Crusaders), T Williams (Crusaders), Z Gallagher (Crusaders), C Lio-Willie (Crusaders), C Roigard (Hurricanes), J Ioane (Chiefs), A Nankevill (Chiefs)

Referee: Adam Leal (England)

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer