Ireland squad to tour US and Japan to be announced Monday
Ronan O’Gara, Girvan Dempsey and Felix Jones to be part of coaching team
Jamie Heaslip: the Ireland number eight is in contention to travel to the US and Japan. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt is to announce a squad of 30-plus players for the June tour of USA and Japan on Monday.
Schmidt, who just returned from the World Cup draw in Kyoto where Ireland were dropped into Pool A alongside the hosts, will name a full strength panel as senior players need to be playing rugby in the event of a Lions call-up.
That means injured duo, Jamie Heaslip (back/disc) and Rob Kearney (bicep and knee), remain in contention to travel as Leinster coach Leo Cullen recently stated both are on 12 week rehabilitation programmes post surgery. If Heaslip recovers, he would be favourite to replace Rory Best as the tour captain.
Seemingly, the 33-year-old number eight is healing quicker than Kearney.
It remains unclear if players leaving the Irish system, like Paris-bound Donnacha Ryan, or returning, like JJ Hanrahan, are being considered for selection.
“Girvan Dempsey, who is I think, growing in confidence all the time in his role in Leinster, and the same with Felix Jones who has made a really positive impression under Rassie Erasmus and Munster,” said Schmidt recently. “I think they are three outstanding young men who have fantastic potential to be coaching in this country and we want to try and get the best out of them on tour.
“We want to give them all an opportunity so they are overlapping for the best part of eight to 10 days [O’Gara] and nine days for the other two.
“I’m really looking forward to working with them. I’ve obviously worked with Girv before and I’ve worked with Felix in a coach-player relationship. He was superb to coach as a player.
“I’ve known Ronan for a long time. They’ll add a bit of a spark to the coaching group.”
US professional league
AJ MacGinty is expected to link up with the US Eagles following the former Blackrock outhalf’s strong finish to the Premiership season with Sale Sharks.
Ireland face the Eagles, led by former All Black coach John Mitchell, on June 10th at the Red Bull Arena in New Jersey (kick-off 9pm Irish time).
The future of rugby in the US has been recently cemented by the formation of a financially sustainable 10 team professional league. Former Ulster and Ireland prop Justin Fitzpatrick is taking over the Houston franchise. Other Irish men coaching in the collegiate system are former Leinster hooker Gavin Hickie (Dartmouth) and former Ireland women’s coach Greg McWilliams (Yale). Hickie, as head coach, and McWilliams have also been coaching the US Collegiate All American side.
The first Japan Test is at the Ecopa stadium in Fukuroi City on June 17th (kick-off 6am Irish time) and Ajinomoto Stadium Tokyo on June 24th (6.40am).
All three matches will be broadcast live on Sky Sports.