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Dublin: 1 °C Tuesday 25 September, 2018
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Scannell and Herring impress as Ireland's depth continues to grow

Joe Schmidt and his coaching staff are pleased that they now have options across the pitch.

Murray Kinsella reports from Sydney

THIS LOOKED LIKE being the tour where Sean Cronin finally got his chance to underline to Joe Schmidt that he was a genuine option as Ireland’s starting hooker.

Instead, his fellow hookers, Rob Herring and Niall Scannell, have been two of the biggest winners from the opening two Tests.

With his fellow Ulsterman Rory Best ruled out through injury, Herring had a strong first Test in the number two shirt, before Cronin entered the fray in the second half and was part of a scrum that gave up a crucial penalty – something that frustrated Schmidt.

Niall Scannell celebrates after the game Scannell had a fine game last weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Munster’s Scannell had his starting opportunity in last weekend’s second Test and largely impressed with some excellent carrying, fine tackling and a few superb lineout throws in key positions.

“Scans did really well,” said experienced second row Devin Toner. “I think the first few throws are always nervous to get into the game but I think he nailed them.”

There was penalty concession at a defensive maul and a loose offload to Wallabies captain Michael Hooper soon before he was replaced, but last weekend’s outing underlined that 26-year-old Scannell has a bright future at international level.

Herring replaced Scannell for the final 32 minutes of the second Test victory and once again showed his energy, admittedly after underthrowing his first lineout of the evening in the seconds after he had come onto the pitch.

While Cronin’s relative lack of bulk seems to be a cause for concern for Ireland, Schmidt and his coaching staff can be pleased with how Herring and Scannell have come through.

“We set out on this tour to expose and get some experience for players, build some combinations,” said forwards coach Simon Easterby.

“Certainly, the hooker position is one because Rory’s unavailability has allowed us to see a little more of Niall and Rob Herring, along with Sean Cronin.

“It’s a position of strength for us at the moment but a position that we feel some of the younger guys haven’t had that much time with us and haven’t had much Test match experience. When Rory became unavailable, that allowed us to select a group of players that we knew we could give opportunities to.

Rob Herring Herring has been one of the big winners on tour so far. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Through the course of the last few weeks, I think those players have stood up, Scans and Rob Herring, two guys we’re not as familiar with as we would be with Sean Cronin, who we know exactly what he can do.”

Last weekend also saw a debut for Munster-bound Tadhg Beirne, who came on at blindside flanker but had to shift into the second row, where he is equally as comfortable.

“He’s been one of the form players, certainly over the last 12 to 18 months,” said Easterby.

“He’s adapted really well, fitted in seamlessly into the group. He’s a good guy, he’s learning new things and he’s adapting to new strategies and systems but he’s been excellent.

“I think obviously the fact that he’s coming back to Ireland and joining Munster will hopefully allow him to integrate that much quicker into their set-up. You know, a good addition to the squad.”

The addition of Beirne adds further depth to Ireland’s second-row stocks, where James Ryan’s emergence as a world-class player has been of eye-opening importance to Ireland.

Toner has continued to deliver strong performances, Iain Henderson has developed into a more complete player and is now also a lineout caller, while the bulky Quinn Roux offers something a little different with his rucking and scrummaging strengths.

That Ireland could afford to leave players such as Ultan Dillane and Kieran Treadwell out of their travelling squad says it all.

“James Ryan’s had a reasonably good year, hasn’t he?” said Easterby. “He’ll be pretty sick with himself after losing [for the first time as a professional] the weekend before.

James Ryan Ryan is now Ireland's first-choice lock. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“There’s always going to be a debate and maybe some discussion over who’s going to be next or what’s next after someone like Paul O’Connell leaves the fray but I think Dev has stepped up massively and so has Iain Henderson.

“Dev’s physicality is great to see for a man of his size putting himself about. It’s something we’ve asked of him and he responded and I think other guys within that group, Quinn, gives you a lot of strength in depth as well.

“You know, James and Tadhg, they’re all guys that can play at a certain level and also step up to the next level. We’ve seen that in James this year and hopefully Tadhg will go back to Munster and start to produce the sort of form he’s produced for the Scarlets for the past couple of years and he becomes a genuine option for us.

“It’s great that we’re building that depth and that’s probably one of those things that we discussed a good while ago after the World Cup, that the depth in the squad was always going to be vital for us to be successful in the next World Cup and I think we’ve seen that in certain positions and in particular in the second row.”

Growing the depth has been the most important theme for Ireland since the 2015 World Cup quarter-final exit against Argentina and the signs are all positive.

Scrum-half remains a slight concern in some people’s eyes but the truth is that Conor Murray is the best number nine Ireland has ever had – matching him is going to be extremely difficult.

Kieran Marmion has racked up decent experience for Ireland, while John Cooney got another cap last weekend and Luke McGrath, left at home this month, had a fine season for Leinster.

There is still work to be done in clarifying a pecking order behind Murray before the World Cup, but the competition should bring out the best in Marmion, Cooney and McGrath.

Meanwhile, Joey Carbery now has an Ireland start against a Tier 1 nation under his belt and will head to Munster as their first-choice out-half next season.

John Cooney Cooney played the closing minutes last weekend. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I think we’re pretty comfortable at the moment with what we’ve got in the stocks,” said Easterby of Ireland’s depth across the pitch.

“The problem is in this game you’re always going to have injuries and you’re always going to lose players and you’re probably going to run on a 15 to 20% injury rate at any one time and it’s important that those players are managed and we don’t overplay them.

“That’s a real balancing act, particularly next season when you’re going into a long season of international and club rugby and then you’ve got on the back of that a good pre-season with the players but then we’re into a World Cup period as well.

“So the strength of the squad is good at the moment and we’re really comfortable with who we brought out here but there are guys back home as well who haven’t travelled and I think they’ll add to the competition next season as well.”

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Murray Kinsella

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