There are lots of Irish players based in England.
Irish Abroad

Cronin, Ryan, Byrne, O'Brien - Irish players set for big Premiership season

The English top flight returns this weekend with a big crop of Irishmen involved.

LAST UPDATE | 7 Sep 2022

AFTER THE RETURNS of the Top 14 and Pro D2 in France over the past fortnight, it’s the turn of the English leagues to get back into action this weekend.

As with the French championships, there will be a huge amount of Irish involvement in England.

We’ll look at the Irish players in the Championship in a separate piece but here we focus on the Premiership, which gets underway on Friday night.

James Cronin [Leicester]

james-cronin-after-his-last-game-for-the-province Former Munster prop Cronin is now with Leicester. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

After a season in the Top 14 with Biarritz, the 31-year-old former Munster loosehead prop has joined the reigning Premiership champions. Capped three times by Ireland between 2014 and 2016, Cronin will be excited to show his ability at the highest level with Steve Borthwick’s side.

John Ryan [Wasps]

Another former Munster prop, Ryan made the move to Wasps over the summer after his native province opted against renewing his contract. The 24-times capped Ireland international remains an excellent tighthead at the age of 34 and will be determined to make his mark in England.

Impressive Wasps back row Tom Willis is still Irish-qualified for now, as is former Ireland U18s wing/fullback Tom Bacon.

Jack Dunne [Exeter]

jack-dunne Dunne could thrive in England. Ben Brady / INPHO Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

23-year-old lock Dunne will be a fascinating one to follow over in Exeter. He impressed at Ireland U20 level but was unfortunate with injuries in recent years and never quite pushed through as strongly as anticipated at senior level with Leinster. The 6ft 8ins lock undoubtedly has plenty of talent and athleticism, so he could thrive under Rob Baxter. 

Rory O’Loughlin [Exeter]

O’Loughlin has also made the move from Leinster to Exeter this summer, bringing with him plenty of experience, a CV that includes one Ireland cap, and the ability to play in midfield or on the wing. The 28-year-old was a consistent performer for his home province and should prove to be an excellent signing for the Premiership side. 

Ian Whitten [Exeter]

ian-whitten-with-dave-ewers Whitten's longevity is impressive. Ben Brady / INPHO Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

Now 35, the former Ulster centre remains a reliable presence in the Exeter midfield and has never quite grabbed the attention back home that he has deserved. Whitten made 21 starts for Baxter’s side last season, underlining his ongoing importance. Capped twice by Ireland back in 2009, he will hope to help Exeter to a much better season in 2022/23. 

Sean O’Brien [Exeter]

Whitten’s longevity is one of the reasons ex-Connacht centre O’Brien has had to be patient in Exeter. Heading into his second year with the club, the 24-year-old will be hoping for a more prominent role. He did enjoy a try-scoring Champions Cup debut against Montpellier last season and came off the bench once in the Premiership. 

Niall Annett [Bath]

worcester-warriors-v-harlequins-gallagher-premiership-sixways-stadium Former Ulster hooker Annett has moved to Bath. PA PA

The ex-Ireland U20 captain has linked up with new Bath boss Johann van Graan for a fresh chapter in his career. Formerly with Ulster, hooker Annett joined Worcester in 2014 and became a huge fan favourite over the past eight seasons. These are worrying times back at his former club, but Annett will be excited about his change of scene.

Quinn Roux [Bath]

The Ireland international second row was with Toulon last season but had a frustrating time and has opted to move on. The 31-year-old will bring grunt, leadership, and lineout skills to van Graan’s side. Roux is the kind of player Bath needed to add to their squad and he should fit in well.

The Bath squad also includes two new signings from Munster in Irish-qualified fullback Matt Gallagher and back row Chris Cloete, who could have played for Ireland via residency but never got a call-up. Bath hooker Tom Doughty is Irish-qualified.

Jack Stafford [Harlequins]

jack-stafford-during-the-warm-up Wexford man Stafford has signed a new deal with Quins. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The 25-year-old former Munster scrum-half is heading into his third season with Quins after signing a new contract earlier this year. He hasn’t had huge opportunity in the Premiership yet and spent time on loan at Richmond in the Championship, but will now fancy a run at claiming the back-up spot behind the evergreen Danny Care.

Quins have two promising Irish-qualified backs in their academy. Ex-Ireland U20 centre Hayden Hyde returned to the club from Ulster in 2021 and is dual-registered with Championship club London Scottish this season, while one-time Ireland U19 wing Conor Oresanya – who is Simon Zebo’s cousin – shone for the England U20s this summer. 

Zach Kerr [Newcastle]

The Bangor man featured in the AIL before having a stint in New Zealand rugby, a short spell in the Championship with Leeds, and then joining Newcastle in 2020. The 22-year-old centre/wing made four Premiership Cup appearances last season so will be pushing for league involvement in the upcoming campaign.

Conor Kenny [Newcastle]

conor-kenny Kenny will hope for an injury-free season. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Former Connacht tighthead prop Kenny’s first season with Newcastle was ruined by a neck injury but he made his comeback at the tail end of the campaign, coming off the bench for his Premiership debut. The 26-year-old, who played for Ireland at underage levels, is now set to kick on this season.

Matthew Dalton [Newcastle]

The highly athletic 23-year-old former Ulster and Ireland U20 lock is heading into his second season with the Falcons, having had a stint in the USA after leaving his native province. The 120kg second row just spent the summer impressing for Bond University in Australia, so should make a bigger impact back in Newcastle. 

The Falcons squad also includes former Ireland U20s international out-half Brett Connon and hooker George McGuigan, who was strongly linked with a move to Ireland earlier this year but decided to stay in England.

Bryan Byrne [Bristol]

bryan-byrne Byrne has settled into life in Bristol very well. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Carlow man Byrne has been with Bristol for the past two seasons and has made a success of his move to England. The 28-year-old hooker has plenty of competition from the likes of Harry Thacker and Will Capon, but he is an impactful, high-energy presence in the number two shirt.

Martin Mulhall [Bristol]

There have been lots of comings and goings at Bristol this summer and Mulhall is one of the new faces. The loosehead prop came through Kilkenny College and IT Carlow, as well as playing for Lansdowne and the Irish Universities. The 25-year-old earned his Bristol deal with his excellent form for Swansea University last season. 

Joe Joyce [Bristol]

bristol-bears-v-bath-rugby-gallagher-premiership-ashton-gate Joyce will join Connacht next summer. PA PA

The former Ireland U20 second row is already a club legend in his native Bristol but this will be his last season there before he moves to Connacht next summer, allowing him to chase senior Ireland caps. The 28-year-old is a grizzled, consistent player who packs plenty of punch in contact.

The Bristol squad also includes former Connacht flanker Jake Heenan, who became Irish-qualified during his time with the westerners but wasn’t capped, as well as impressive back Piers O’Conor, who played for the Ireland U19s but later had issues proving he was Irish-qualified. 

Bryan O’Connor [Gloucester]

23-year-old prop O’Connor has been with Gloucester since early 2021 and has featured in the Challenge Cup and Premiership Cup. The former Ireland U18 international can play at loosehead or tighthead. The Crosshaven man came through PBC and played in the AIL for UCC before his move to England.

Oisin Heffernan [Northampton]

leicester-tigers-v-northampton-saints-gallagher-premiership-play-off-semi-final-mattioli-woods-welford-road-stadium Former Leinster tighthead missed much of last season. PA PA

Heffernan has been in England since 2018, first joining Championship club Nottingham after leaving Leinster. He earned a move to Northampton in 2021 but last season was a frustrating one as Heffernan was sidelined by a hamstring injury. He did, however, make a comeback off the bench in their Premiership semi-final defeat to Leicester.

Paddy Jackson [London Irish]

30-year-old Jackson, whose IRFU contract was revoked in 2018, is a key figure for London Irish, having had a spell with Perpignan in France when he first left Ireland. Previously capped 25 times by his country, Jackson has become part of the leadership group with the Exiles.

Hugh O’Sullivan [London Irish]

hugh-osullivan O'Sullivan is heading into second season in London. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

The former Leinster scrum-half is heading into his second season with the Exiles, having featured six times in the Premiership and Challenge Cup during the 2021/22 campaign. The 24-year-old Meath man also impressed in the Premiership Cup.

The senior London Irish squad also includes former Ireland U19 scrum-half Caolan Englefield and ex-Ireland U20 back row Jack Cooke.

Among the Exiles’ academy crop are Ireland U18 international prop Oran Murphy and second row Jarlath Gleeson, both of whom represented the IQ Rugby branch of the IRFU last year.

There are several other Irish-qualified players dotted around the Premiership clubs worth keeping an eye out for.

25-year-old Saracens centre Dominic Morris attracted strong interest from Munster last season but opted to sign a new deal with his club in January. His younger brother, 23-year-old Oli Morris, spent time with the Ireland U20s in 2019 and has been impressive for Worcester since but is currently among those going through turmoil amid troubling times for the Warriors.

The Saracens set-up includes former Ireland U18 lock Cameron Boon, who is hard to miss at 6ft 10ins, while academy scrum-half Charlie Bracken qualifies for Ireland through his father, ex-England international Kyran, but has been playing for England’s underage sides.

 The coaches

billy-millard-and-jerry-flannery Jerry Flannery is a key part of the Harlequins set-up. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Former Munster and Leinster boss Declan Kidney is the main man at London Irish, guiding the club in his role as director of rugby, with former Ireland and Ulster coach Les Kiss still in place as the Exiles’ head coach. Their defence coach is Declan Danaher, a former Ireland U19 international player.

Mark McCall will be driving Saracens’ bid to bounce back from last season’s Premiership final defeat to Leicester. The former Ireland centre has been with the club for 13 years now and is regarded as a world-class operator.

Former Munster and Ireland hooker Jerry Flannery is a key part of the coaching staff at Harlequins, who won the Premiership two years ago and reached the semi-finals last season. Flannery runs Quins’ lineout and defence. He signed a permanent contract with the club earlier this year.

Pat Lam’s coaching team at Bristol includes former Connacht men Conor McPhillips and John Muldoon. McPhillips is the attack coach, while Muldoon is in charge of the forwards. McPhillips was also in the Connacht staff when Lam led them to their Pro12 title in 2016, while Muldoon was captain of that team.

Exeter legend Gareth Steenson - who played for the Ireland U21s before leaving his native Ulster to make his career in England - is now a senior coach with the club he helped to promotion from the Championship and on towards their first Premiership title in 2017.

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