Be Kind Rewind

In October 2009 with the Palindrome a mere nine months from opening, the blazers confirmed that the opening fixture would indeed be a rugger game. Given the small window in which it could be played (after opening but before the soccerball merchants pitched up in August), it was somewhat inevitable that the biggest names would not be involved.

So what they pencilled in was a combination interprovincial, where Munster/Connacht would play Leinster/Ulster. At the time (Autumn 2009), Munster were the kingpins of Irish rugger.  Despite Leinster being HEC champions, Munster were still considered the daddies of Irish rugby, and match-for-match had probably been the best team in the previous years HEC. They backboned the Irish Grand Slammers and that summers Lions team and were still recognisable as the Liginds. They were confident and comfortable in their own skin – no need to hype up someone with two semi-decent Pro12 outings as the next big thing when you had the real big thing in the first XV. The idea was to pair them with Connacht, traditionally the weakest Irish province, and let them chukka off against the rest.

Given there were no big names available (all on holidays), the players were picked from the Academies and sub-academies. The game itself was a complete mismatch – but in the opposite way to senior level – it was Leinster/Ulster won 68-0 and scored 10 tries. So despite the fact Leinster (then still under Mike Cheika) were far from the finished article, and Ulster were at the bottom of a trough, their collective youngsters were far, far better than those of Munster and Connacht. Initial warning sign? Maybe, but that might be being overly prescriptive with history – the acceptance at the time was that only a handful of these players might make the transition to the top level at any rate. So who were they?

Leinster/Ulster:

15. Sam Coghlan Murray (Leinster)
14. Craig Gilroy (Ulster)
13. Alex Kelly (Leinster)
12. Luke Marshall (Ulster) Captain
11. Andrew Boyle (Leinster)
10. Paddy Jackson (Ulster)
9. Peter du Toit (Leinster)
1. James Tracy (Leinster)
2. Jonny Murphy (Ulster)
3. Martin Moore (Leinster)
4. Iain Henderson (Ulster)
5. Robert Hynes (Leinster)
6. Steven Lecky (Ulster)
7. Mark McGroarty (Leinster)
8. David McGuigan (Ulster)
Replacements
16. Paddy Carroll (Leinster)
17. Andy Warrick (Ulster)
18. Mark Fallon (Leinster)
19. Paddy Marks (Ulster)
20. Conor Spence (Ulster)
21. Cathal Marsh (Leinster)
22. Michael McAuley (Ulster)

Connacht/Munster:

15. Callum Boland (Connacht)
14. Tadhg Leader (Connacht)
13. Daniel Horgan (Munster)
12. Ben Sargent (Munster)
11. Shane Leydon (Connacht)
10. Johnny Holland (Munster)
9. Mark Dolan (Connacht) Captain
1. Aaron Spring (Connacht)
2. Kieran Stokes (Munster)
3. Paul Mullen (Munster)
4. Rob O’Herlihy (Munster)
5. David O’Mahony (Munster)
6. Shane Buckley (Munster)
7. Aaron Conneely (Connacht)
8. Danny Qualter (Connacht)
Replacements
16. James Rael (Munster)
17. Sean Wooton (Connacht)
18. Ian Mullarkey (Munster)
19. David Heffernan (Connacht)
20. Ronan Barry (Munster)
21. Gareth Quinn-McDonogh (Munster)
22. Jack Costigan (Munster)
23. Cathal Quinn (Munster)

Not many familiar names there, unless you are a hard-core fan. But there aren’t no familiar names – second row NWJMB is now a full international and will backbone the Irish pack for the next decade plus. Craig Gilroy was the star of the November series, scoring the first try against the Pumas and adding real vigour to Ireland’s attack. Paddy Jackson (24 appearances for Ulster) and Luke Marshall (18 appearances, and spent most of last season injured) would be full internationals too, if the IRFU hadn’t signed such a restrictive agreement with Aviva. In the event, they have lined up for an ‘Ireland XV’, but will certainly expect to feature in the Six Nations.

There’s quite a drop-off in visibility after that, with none of the rest of them having as much as strung together a few Pro12 games (the next most established is probably Leinster academy prop Martin Moore who has 5 replacement appearances in the Pro12).  Yet the big 4 are contending for international recognition. And, as we’re sure some of you have noted, all four are from Ulster. We had heard plenty of rumours at the time about the great crop of apples being grown in the Ulster orchard, but here is some intriguing evidence of it – all four provinces contributed the cream of their 18-20 year olds for this game, and the only four to make it to the top at a very young age are all from Ulster. Food for thought indeed, and worth another look in 2 years time to note progress…