DAVE FOLEY AND Dominic Ryan will bring to 12 the number of new caps blooded during Joe Schmidt’s reign as Ireland head coach on Sunday, while Robin Copeland could make it a lucky 13 off the bench.
While some have bemoaned the fact that Ireland are not playing a third world-class team this November in between South Africa and Australia, this weekend’s meeting with Georgia does at least mean that Schmidt can grow the depth of his squad.
Alongside the new caps, players like Ian Madigan, Tommy O’Donnell, Craig Gilroy, Felix Jones and Dave Kilcoyne are provided with opportunities to confirm to Schmidt that they can be relied upon.
Foley’s impressive form for Munster over the last year or so has earned him a starting spot in the second row, while Ryan’s physical dynamism has seen him promoted into Ireland’s number six shirt.
While Copeland’s time at Munster has yet to truly kick into gear after his move home to Ireland from the Cardiff Blues during the summer, it is his athletic ability that Schmidt is backing.
“It’s brilliant,” said 26-year-old Foley of his starting chance. “I’ve said in the past that with Munster I just wanted to play as well as I could, and any opportunities that came after that are just a bonus. It’s obviously the pinnacle of every young fella’s career to play for Ireland.
“I suppose there was some disappointment last week from some players [at not being selected to face South Africa]. It’s a huge opportunity for those guys who weren’t selected. We’re just taking this as our own game.
We’re not looking behind us and probably not looking ahead either.”
Ryan echoed those sentiments of excitement at winning a first international cap, particularly as it comes in a game in which the forward battle will be where Georgia look to dominate.
Milton Haig’s side contains a wealth of international caps in Top 14 forwards like Davit Kubriashvili, Mikheil Nariashvili and Kote Mikautadze. Ryan is confident that Ireland’s less experienced pack can handle the challenge.
“As Dave said, you spend most of your life dreaming of putting on a green jersey one day and it’s great that all of the hard work over the last few years has paid off,” said Leinster man Ryan. “I’m looking forward to it.
“We’ve been prepping for a big physical battle up front. Maybe we’re a bit inexperienced in terms of caps, but I think we’ll be able to put it up to them and hopefully it will go well.”
As for Copeland, his inclusion on the bench is somewhat surprising after being left out of Schmidt’s 37-player squad for this month’s Guinness Series.
The Wexford man has not quite shown his best form in limited appearances for Munster so far in this campaign, but Schmidt called him into his group at Carton House this week nonetheless.
He’s getting there,” said Schmidt of Copeland, “and it’s a little bit like last week: you find out how ready there are when you put them in. For Robin, he’s come in this week and he’s had a bit of catching up to do.
“We’ve solely worked on him in his number eight role, so with Robin at least if and when he comes off the bench, he will slot into a position he knows pretty well. He’s an athletic man and I think that makes him someone we want to invest in.”