Following on from yesterday’s Youth XV Backline, The Touchline selects a forward pack of young Irish players who are currently contracted in England. Again, the key here is to highlight the fact that there is Irish talent playing outside of this country. In Ireland we can often be quite blinkered in our support of the provinces and the national team. Irish players should be encouraged and supported in moves abroad. The more professional players we have the better.
Check out the first Exiled Irish piece of the series for four examples of Irish players whose moves abroad have been particularly successful (two of whom would have been included here if they weren’t already highlighted there!).
1. Shane Cahill
A Leinster Schools Senior Cup winner with Blackrock in 2005 alongside Luke Fitzgerald, Niall Morris and Dave Moore, Cahill went on to represent the Irish Colleges team in ’08. Several years playing AIL with Blackrock RFC followed, before the prop had a trial with the Doncaster Knights. His strength and power impressed and Cahill signed for the ’10/11 campaign. At the start of this season, the Rotherham Titans swooped to sign the Dubliner. Competing with fellow Irish man Jamie Kilbane for the loosehead slot, Cahill has come out on top, starting all four of the recent promotion play-off games. The 24-year-old’s impressive form has resulted in him penning a contract extension with the Titans this week.
2. Jason Harris-Wright
The Ireland U19 and U20 international spent several seasons in the senior Leinster set-up, making a total of 10 appearances, even coming off the bench for the closing minutes of the 2011 Heineken Cup final. However, the signing of Sean Cronin at the start of this season convinced the 23-year-old to join Bristol in the Championship. Harris-Wright has been competing with ex-Blues hooker Ross Johnston for the No. 2 jersey, but has featured far more than he would have done at Leinster. Having played plenty of underage rugby in the backrow, Harris-Wright is a dynamic ball carrier. With Bristol currently involved in promotion play-offs, we may see him in the Premiership next year.
3. Royce Burke-Flynn
The 25-year old prop showed his potential for Ireland at Schools and U19 levels. Having graduated from St. Michael’s, he joined the Leinster Academy. During his time with there, he had a short-term spell in South Africa with Western Province. In 2009, with little opportunity at Leinster, Burke-Flynn moved to Italian outfit Livorno. The following season he joined French Pro D2 team Montauban before signing for Doncaster Knights for the current campaign. The 6’3″, 122kg Dubliner has been rotated with Alex Brown at tighthead, while also making several appearances at loosehead. His versatility and strength make him worth keeping an eye on, especially with Ireland’s current propping situation.
4. James Sandford
This is a 23-year-old with a serious CV. After captaining both the Ulster and Irish Schools sides he was named the Northern Bank Schools Player of the Year in ’06/07. Sandford went on to captain the Ulster U20s and play two years at Ireland U20 level. 2008 saw him win an Irish Examiner Junior Sports Star award. Following a disruptive shoulder injury, the Ulster man took a calculated risk in joining the Rotherham Titans for the ’10/11 season. The move paid off as the 6’6″ second-row’s 10 starts and 2 tries earned him a move to Premiership side London Irish this season. He has made 8 appearances to date and recently signed a new two-year deal. A physical player who is a great lineout jumper, he also has a big engine and a big future.
5. Eoin Sheriff
An Irish U18, U19 and U20 international, Sheriff came through the Leinster Academy, and made one substitute against the Warriors in 2010. He subsequently played AIL with both Lansdowne and Shannon before joining Premiership outfit Saracens on a short-term trial midway through this season. The 6’5″ lock has made two appearances since, starting an LV= Cup match and coming off the bench in the Premiership. He has done enough to have his time extended at Saracens, although the length of the deal remains unclear. Hopefully he can continue to impress and secure a long-term contract.
Saracens Profile: Eoin Sheriff
6. John Downey
An explosive back-rower, Downey came through at Presentation Bray, representing Leinster at Schools and U19 levels. In 2007, he played for the Ireland U19s alongside the likes Eoin O’Malley, Ian Nagle and Mike Sherry. A breakthrough in the Leinster set up never came, although Downey represented Ireland Colleges in 2009 alongside Robin Copeland. He moved to England to join Richmond for the ’09/10 season, doing enough to earn a move to Championship side Esher the following season. The 23-year-old has been in and out of the squad this season as Esher have fought what now looks like a losing battle against relegation. Still, Downey has forged a promising career for himself.
Esher Profile: John Downey
7. Peter Synnott
A team mate of Downey’s at Esher, Synnott has made 14 starts this season. A Leinster Schools and U20 representative in the same age-group as Ian Madigan, Dominic Ryan and Tom Sexton, Synnott went on to play for Leinster ‘A’. However, a contract with Leinster never materialised and the back-row played in the AIL with Clontarf for a couple of years. He secured a deal with Esher at the start of this season and has performed well so far, even taking over the place-kicking duties recently! With Esher almost certainly getting relegated from the Championship, he will hope to catch another club’s eye for next season.
8. Michael Noone
An Irish U19 and U20 international in the same year as Peter O’Mahony, Dave Kearney and Ian Madigan, Noone has long been recognised as a great prospect. He represented Leinster right up to ‘A’ level but that’s where the chances dried up. That prompted his move to the Doncaster Knights at the start of this season and the 22-year-old has excelled in his 21 appearances so far. A typical Irish back-row, in that he is a powerful ball carrier who can play at 6 or 8, Noone has plenty of time on his side. He has agreed to join the Rotherham Titans next season, replacing his compatriot Robin Copeland. Noone will hope to have a similar impact to the Cardiff Blues-bound Irish man.
Photo courtesy: Andy Scrutton.