Cian Aherne in Lansdowne colours this season. ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Ireland Club team in the 'shop window' against England Counties

Lansdowne wing Cian Aherne explains that the pick of Irish club rugby players are hoping to make a mark tonight.

IT’S A HUGE weekend for Irish rugby in England, with the Ireland Club team getting proceedings underway this evening in Darlington against England Counties [KO 7.30pm].

Having comprehensively overcome Scotland on a 28-3 scoreline two weeks ago to claim the Dalriada Cup, Tom Tierney’s side travel with confidence boosted and a more ambitious approach than in bygone seasons.

Among the pick of the Ulster Bank League’s finest players is Lansdowne wing Cian Aherne, who admits to being slightly surprised at the manner in which he and his teammates swept aside a Scottish team that included seven professional players.

“The weather was shocking and I thought we wouldn’t get to play an awful lot of rugby, but you can see there’s so much talent in the team. The tries we scored were from some good rugby, some good play through the backs, besides the maul try obviously.”

Ireland RTÉ RTÉ

Indeed, watching footage of that game, it is hard not to be impressed with how Tierney’s side dealt with the conditions. The Ireland Club team presents the finest AIL players in the country with a chance to prove themselves at a higher standard, and that’s certainly what the Irish team did against Scotland.

This time last year Darragh Fanning, Craig Ronaldson and Ger Slattery were all part of the Ireland Club team preparing to face the England Counties. That trio have gone on to feature for Leinster, Connacht and Munster, respectively, this season.

Tierney has encouraged this year’s team to follow in their footsteps, with Aherne – now in his third year with the Ireland Club team – appreciating the Garryowen coach’s approach.

“Tom has said, ‘Lads, I know this is a shop window. What I want to do is give you the structures so that you can then go out and express yourselves.’

Ireland 2 RTÉ RTÉ

“All the training and prep for the games was just to get that little bit of structure in place so that when we have played the first two phases, we’re given leave to go out and do what we do best.”

Within that decision-making freedom, Tierney expects Aherne to show his pace and evasion skills, scrum-half Gerry Hurley to demonstrate his playmaking abilities, and centre Mark Roche to show his power and creativity in midfield. A basic shape, and then let the players’ skills shine; that’s the template for this Ireland Club team.

Aherne says Lansdowne (who have four other players in the starting team) have been greatly supportive of their clubmen’s efforts with the Irish side, with head coach Mike Ruddock understanding that “more players playing at a higher level only brings the standard of the club up.”

Ireland 3 RTÉ RTÉ

This evening, Tierney’s charges – who can call on former Munster lock Mick O’Driscoll as their forwards coach – face what they expect to be a “massive” Counties side. Beating the English away from home is an achievement that has so far eluded the Ireland Club side.

That simply means further opportunity knocks.

“I think this year, the squad is a lot more ambitious. The phrase going around is ‘We haven’t beaten England over there.’ You could even see that the second the Scotland game was over, we were thinking this year could be big.

“We could go down as one of the best Ireland Club teams there has been.”

Ireland Club Team: Daniel Riordan (Old Belvedere RFC); Michael McGrath (Clontarf FC), Stuart Morrow (Ballynahinch RFC), Mark Roche (Lansdowne FC), Cian Aherne (Lansdowne FC); David Joyce (Clontarf FC), Gerry Hurley (Cork Constitution FC) (capt.); Colm McMahon (St. Mary’s College RFC), Tyrone Moran (Lansdowne FC), Declan Lavery (Old Belvedere RFC); Dean Moore (Old Belvedere RFC), Fergal Walsh (Terenure RFC); Willie Earle (Lansdowne FC), Charlie Butterworth (Lansdowne FC), William Ryan (Cork Constitution FC).

Replacements: Andrew O’Driscoll (Cork Constitution FC), Ian Hirst (Clontarf FC), Hugh McGrath (Young Munster RFC), Sean Walsh (Cashel RFC), James Ryan (Cork Constitution FC), Neil Cronin (Garryowen FC), Ritchie McMaster (Queen’s University RFC), Barry Daly (UCD RFC).

Bonus point win over Cardiff Blues sends Leinster top in Pro12

Analysis: Ireland can halt England’s attack with energy and organisation

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.