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Dublin: 2°C Wednesday 20 January 2021
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Message from Ireland camp clear: prove your point in European games first

Many supporters were hoping to see 21-year-old halfbacks Craig Casey and Harry Byrne called up.

Harry Byrne and Craig Casey are showing promise for Leinster and Munster.
Harry Byrne and Craig Casey are showing promise for Leinster and Munster.

THE MESSAGE TO the young guns around the Irish provinces is clear: prove yourselves in the heat of European club rugby first.

Ireland boss Andy Farrell has opted against adding a couple of promising players to his squad for Sunday’s Autumn Nations Cup clash with Georgia despite widespread hopes among supporters that he would use this fixture to look to the future.

Farrell has called uncapped 24-year-old Ulster loosehead prop Eric O’Sullivan into his squad after an injury to Ed Byrne, but there have been no further additions at the start of this training week as Ireland begin the process of bouncing back from defeat to England.

There had been clamour for Ireland to bring 21-year-old Munster scrum-half Craig Casey and 21-year-old Leinster out-half Harry Byrne into the mix this week, with Farrell having hinted that he could look at a few fresh faces for the Georgia game.

However, the Ireland boss has opted to continue with Jamison Gibson-Park, Kieran Marmion, Conor Murray, Billy Burns, and Ross Byrne as his halfback options, with Johnny Sexton still rehabbing a hamstring injury.

Byrne and Casey have been impressing in the Guinness Pro14 in recent weeks as their provinces have made 100% winning starts to the season, with Leinster enjoying seven bonus-point wins from seven games so far.

Out-half Byrne has yet to play for Leinster in the Champions Cup and will be in a battle with his older brother and Sexton for minutes when those fixtures roll around in December. The 21-year-old will be hoping his current promising form puts him in contention to push ahead of one of those two senior figures, who are obviously regarded as key men within Leinster.

Casey, meanwhile, got 25 minutes off the Munster bench in last season’s European campaign, scoring a try against the Ospreys at Thomond Park. The Limerick man will be hoping his performances early this season in the Pro14 leave him challenging Murray for Munster’s number nine shirt when the European season begins next month.

craig-casey Casey at Ireland training last month. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The view from within Ireland camp appears to be that Byrne and Casey are better served continuing to rack up minutes in the Pro14 for now and that they need to prove themselves in European games to push past other contenders who have done so.

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Farrell and co. obviously believe there is a major leap between the standard of the Pro14 games we’ve been watching early on this season and Test rugby, including a fixture against a team like 12th-ranked Georgia.

Clearly, Farrell does also feel that Casey, Byrne, and several other young players like Fineen Wycherley have talent – they have been included in training squads as development players this year. 

But Farrell seemingly feels that bringing them straight in now is not the right call. His decision not to make further changes to his squad will lead to the head coach facing criticism about not looking to the future. He would point to the nine new caps handed out in his first seven games in charge of Ireland, but many supporters want more.

There is an argument to be made that if Ireland believe the likes of Casey and Byrne have the long-term potential to be starters at Test level, then integrating them as soon as possible is crucial.

For now, the underlying message for young Irish players is one that has long existed – prove yourselves in the Champions Cup, which is clearly another big step up from the Pro14 fixtures we’re currently seeing the Irish provinces rack up big wins in.

If the likes of Byrne and Casey can do that over the course of December and January, it would be no surprise to see them get their first full Ireland call-ups for the 2021 Six Nations.

- Originally published at 11:19

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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