Ahead of the new rugby season, how do the Irish provinces stand?

John O’Sullivan takes a look at where the four teams are at before the new campaign

Connacht have confirmed the signing of Andrew Deegan from Australian Super Rugby side the Waratahs. The 22-year-old outhalf has been capped by the Australia at Schoolboys and Under-20 level and has represented the Waratahs, the New South Wales Country Eagles and the famous Randwick club.

Deegan's arrival offset the departure of unfortunate Marnitz Boshoff, the South African managing less than a handful of appearances for the province.

Concussion, a shoulder injury and the death of his father meant that Boshoff was a peripheral figure during his time in the west of Ireland. As a result the 24-year-old Athlone native Jack Carty shouldered the outhalf responsibilities, demonstrating his physical resilience in making a remarkable 27 appearances during the season.

Deegan will dispute the number 10 jersey with first choice Carty and potentially Craig Ronaldson, although the Kilkenny native has excelled at inside centre. New head coach Kieran Keane has two pre-season friendlies to get a feel for style and constituents in team terms.

Born in the Sydney suburb of Randwick, Deegan attended the renowned St Joseph’s College in Hunter’s Hill. After impressing for the school’s senior XV, he was selected for the Australian Schoolboys side in 2013 before helping the New South Wales U20s to back-to-back Championships in 2013 and 2014.

He graduated to the senior ranks with Randwick in 2014 before progressing to the Australia U20s in 2015. Last year saw the young playmaker score 194 points for Randwick, including five tries in 18 games, and he also helped the NSW Country Eagles to the 2016 NRC finals and was the top points’ scorer in the Shute Shield.

Connacht assistant coach Nigel Carolan said: “Andrew is a very highly-rated young player who has already gained a lot of experience in Australia. He has huge potential and we are delighted to welcome him to the province.”

Deegan spoke about his delight at being given this opportunity adding, “I have only heard great things about the club, the community, and how supportive the fans are; I hope I can add to the success Connacht have enjoyed in recent times.”

Ulster will look to follow Connacht's lead in the recruitment of a front-line ouThalf, a process they too had to undertake outside the traditional window of negotiation.

Ulster’s need is arguably more acute in the absence of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, who at one point last season, were the province’s first and second choices at outhalf. Peter Nelson, who spent most of his formative years in rugby at fullback, wore the number 10 jersey and did reasonably well before injury curtailed the experiment somewhat.

Former Ireland Under-20 outhalf Johnny McPhillips endured an injury ravaged season, while Brett Herron played more A than senior matches. Angus Curtis, a son of former Zimbabwean born Ireland international, Dave, has played a couple of national age-grades the latest of which was with Peter Malone’s side in the Under-20 World Championship, while the other academy outhalf prospect, Michael Lowry, is only out of school.

Ulster CEO Shane Logan said this week: “We have been looking at recruitment in the flyhalf position as we do with all key positions for over a year. We have had our radar out there. Now this is a difficult time of the year to recruit when everyone is in contract [but]we will be optimistic of making a positive announcement sooner rather than later.”

Ulster’s director of rugby Les Kiss and the new coaching team of Jono Gibbes and Dwayne Peel would prefer to have someone in place prior to a training camp in Portugal and a pre-season friendly against Wasps.

The expectation is that Ulster will for a permanent solution in recruiting a player capable of fulfilling the playmaking role at Champions Cup level rather than beg, steal or borrow from a neighbouring province. At any rate Leinster’s Jonathan Sexton (fractured wrist/ankle ligament tear) and Joey Carbery (ankle) are recovering from injury leaving Ross Byrne as the likely starter against Perpignan on Friday week.

Munster’s three front-line outhalves, Tyler Bleyendaal, Ian Keatley and JJ Hanrahan have all played Champions Cup but given the physical toll on a player over a season the province will want to retain all three, especially if Hanrahan gets game time at inside centre.

Other Irish outhalves playing abroad are tied up. Ian Madigan signed a three year deal with Bristol, Gareth Steenson is contracted to the Exeter Chiefs until the summer of 2018, Benetton Treviso’s Ian McKinley has a year left on his agreement while someone like 22-year-old Ballymena native Tim Small, who signed for Aurillac in the summer having played club football in Australia, lacks the necessary experience.

The timing of Ulster’s search isn’t ideal but they’ll need to find a resolution and quickly.



INS: Gavin Thornbury (Wanganui), James Mitchell (Sale Sharks), Jarrad Butler (Brumbies), Peter McCabe (Munster), Denis Coulson (Grenoble), Cormac Brennan (academy), Conor McKeon (academy), Pat O’Toole (academy).

OUTS: John Cooney (Ulster), Danny Qualter (Nottingham), Lewis Stevenson (Bangor), Josh Rowland (Irish Sevens), Ben Marshall (retired), Rory Moloney (released), Shane O’Leary (released), Rory Parata (released), Nepia Fox-Matamua (released), Ronan Loughney (released), Danie Poolman (released), Ivan Soroka (released), Marnitz Boshoff (released).


INS: Scott Fardy (Brumbies), James Lowe (Chiefs), Andrew Porter (academy), Ross Byrne (academy), Joey Carbery (academy), Nick McCarthy (academy), Rory O’Loughlin (academy), Peadar Timmins (academy), James Ryan (academy), Max Deegan (academy).

OUTS: Zane Kirchner (Dragons), Dominic Ryan (Leicester Tigers), Mike Ross (retired), Haydn Triggs (retired), Mike McCarthy (retired).


IN: Chris Farrell (Grenoble), James Hart (Racing 92), JJ Hanrahan (Northampton Saints), Chris Cloete (Southern Kings), Gerbrandt Grobler (Racing 92), Brian Scott (academy), Conor Oliver (academy), Bill Johnston (academy), Dan Goggins (academy), Stephen Fitzgerald (academy)

OUT: Dave Foley (Pau), Donnacha Ryan (Racing 92), Rory Burke (Nottingham), John Madigan (RC Massy), Francis Saili (Harlequins), Peter McCabe (Connacht), M Chisholm (retired), Cian Bohane (retired).


INS: John Cooney (Connacht), Schalk van der Merwe (Southern Kings), Jean Deysel (Sharks), David Busby (academy), Aaron Cairns (academy), Ross Kane (academy), Rob Lyttle (academy), Tommy O’Hagan (academy), Jack Owens (academy)

OUTS: Ruan PIenaar (Montpellier), Franco van der Merwe (Cardiff), Conor Joyce (Jersey Reds), Mark Best (Jersey Reds), Jonny Murphy (Rotherham Titans), John Donnan (released), Lorcan Dow (released), Ricky Lutton (released), Stephen Mulholland (released).



Scarlets: Tadhg Beirne

Benetton Treviso: Ian McKinley

Aviva Premiership

Exeter Chiefs: Gareth Steenson, Ian Whitten

Gloucester: Paddy McAllister

Leicester Tigers: Dominic Ryan, Ben Betts

London Irish: Conor Gilsenan, Fergus Mulchrone, Jack Cooke

Newcastle Falcons: Paddy Ryan, Brett Connon

Saracens: Mark Flanagan, Tadhg McElroy

Wasps: Marty Moore, Brendan Macken

Worcester Warriors: Niall Annett, Donncha O’Callaghan, Peter Stringer

French Top14

Agen: Dave Ryan

Pau : Dave Foley, Sean Dougal, Paddy Butler

Racing 92: Donnacha Ryan

Super Rugby

Canterbury Crusaders: Oliver Jager

English Championship

Bedford Blues: Sean McCarthy

Bristol: Jason Harris Wright, Jack O’Connell, Dan Tuohy, Ian Madigan

Cornish Pirates: Alex O’Meara

Doncaster Knights: Michael Heaney, Declan Cusack

Ealing Trailfinders: Willie Ryan, Peter Lydon

Hartpury College: Des Merrey

Jersey Reds: Jerry Sexton, Conor Joyce, Mark Best, Ross Adair

London Scottish: Danny Kenny

Nottingham: Rory Burke, Danny Butler, Shane Buckley, Jordan Coghlan, Gearoid Lyons, Sean Scanlon

Richmond: Adam Boland, Rowan Halsall, Sean O’Hagen

Rotherham Titans: Jonny Murphy

French Prod2

Aurillac: Tim Small, Conor Gaston

Carcassonne: Eamon Sheridan, Steve McMahon

Beziers: Jamie Hagan

Nevers: Frank Bradshaw

Massy: John Madigan


Friday, August 11th: Perpignan v Leinster, Aimé Giral Stadium (9.0pm, Irish time).

Thursday, August 17th: Ulster v Wasps, Kingspan stadium (7.30).

Friday, August 18th: Leinster v Gloucester, Templeville Road (7.30).

Wednesday, August 23rd: Wasps v Connacht, Ricoh Arena (7.35).

Thursday, August 24th: Worcester Warriors v Munster, Sixways stadium (7.30).

Friday, August 25th: Leinster v Bath, Donnybrook (7.30).

Saturday, August 25th: Connacht v Bristol, Sportsground (3.0).