EVERY YEAR, THE Six Nations weekend comes alive with the exuberant, fresh, unpredictability of the competition’s junior version.
Yes, in just seven days time Ireland under 20s will kick-off the Six Nations against Scotland in Dubarry Park, mercifully bringing January to a close and giving us a sneak peak of the talent we can expect to push for international honours further down the line.
Some, like Stuart Olding, Robbie Henshaw or Iain Henderson; make the jump in class quicker than others. But here are a handful of players we think could make a mark on Mike Ruddock’s team this term.
One of just two Ulster representatives in the international squad, but wouldn’t you just know that one of them is a wing.
While competition is fierce for back three spots, the solidly built winger’s game-time with the big boys for Ulster Ravens should stand to him. And with stand-out fullback Billy Dardis likely to miss out the opening week with a hamstring injury, Busby’s experience of adapting across the back three could prove invaluable.
The Terenure man’s name initially caught the eye because of his All Black father, but he has not had trouble living up to expectations.
Initially a back row, Brewer moved into the centre for his Senior Cup years and at times uses his physicality to devastating effect. Brewer will still be eligible for under 20s next season, so with other robust midfield options, Ruddock may well choose to use him sparingly.
Another man who is in the first of two possible years at under 20. Munster’s ex-Saracens scrum-half is the youngest member of the academy, but has quickly turned heads and his assured service from the base has marked him out as a major talent.
Ireland’s second row grunt will be provided by the new Sean O’Brien.
Now, aside from the name and being a forward, few comparisons should be drawn. The powerful Connacht lock played a massive part in Roscrea’s recent Leinster Schools run and thanks to Pat Lam’s insistence on combining academy and senior training, he is excelling in an unforgiving environment.
The powerful number eight is the only man on this list already capped at under 20 level having been involved at last summer’s World Cup. The Waterford man is a strong ball-carrier who will have a chance to shine in this tournament in a serious back-row alongside captain Dan Leavy and Peader Timmins.
If it’s freakishly strong centres you’re into, then Peter Robb is the 12 for you. The Old Belvedere clubman could hold the advantage of greater backline experience in his battle for a jersey with Brewer.
He already looks like a fully fledged senior pro, and that physicality could be a huge benefit to Ireland at this level