Tag Archives: Championship

The Exiled Irish: Transfers Update

Tim Ryan has left Italy to join the Dragons in the PRO12. (c) Daniela Pasquetti.

If you missed the recent Exiled Irish series, it basically involved highlighting some of the Irish players who are contracted outside Ireland. Here’s the original pieces if you need to catch up:

The Exiled Irish: Four Success Stories                The Exiled Irish: Youth XV Backline

The Exiled Irish: Youth XV Pack                                 The Exiled Irish: Allez Les Verts

The Exiled Irish: Stand Up For the Ulster Men              The Exiled Irish: Italia

In the last few weeks, a number of the players featured in these pieces have secured transfers which may take their careers to the next level. Let’s catch up with the players who have made moves ahead of next season.


Shane Monahan

While the Rotherham Titans season finished their season with a poor Championship play-off effort (1 win in 6 games), Monahan notched two tries in that mini-series. The 25-year-old scored a total of 11 tries in 26 starts after joining from Connacht at the start of the season. His prolific form and physical presence on the wing (he also played 4 games at outside centre) has earned the Leinster Academy graduate a move to Premiership side Gloucester. The South-Western side have big ambitions, with others like Ben Morgan, Billy Twelvetrees, Jimmy Cowan and coach Nigel Davies set to join the club.

Gloucester do have strong options out wide, with Monahan set to compete with the likes of Charlie Sharples, Jonny May, Olly Morgan and James Simpson-Daniel for a place in the back-three. Still, this move can only be a positive one for the Irish man. Hopefully he gets plenty of opportunities to show his power and finishing ability. Monahan’s decision to take a risk by moving to the Championship last season looks like it may have paid off.


Tim Ryan

After brief stints with Toulon in the Top 14 and Newcastle in the Premiership, Ryan spent this season with Italian Super 10 side Cavalieri Prato. The tighthead prop was first-choice (starting 13 games) as Cavalieri finished top of the regular season table. However, Ryan didn’t feature in the play-off stages as the Tuscan side were beaten by the Paul Griffen-led Calvisano in the two-legged final. It’s unclear whether Ryan was injured or simply not chosen due to his impending transfer to the Dragons. After those 13 league starts, as well as 6 Amlin Cup appearances, the 27-year-old has been signed by the Welsh PRO12 region.

Crucially, Ryan has secured a two-year deal which will allow him time to settle into the higher standard of the PRO12. Converted into a prop from the backrow as an 18-year-old, the question marks about Ryan during his four years with Munster were around his scrummaging. It will be interesting to see if his travels have improved that aspect of his game. His ball-carrying has always been explosive. Irish eyes will be watching the Dragons a little more closely next season.


Jason Harris-Wright

Harris-Wright (wearing scrumcap) in action for Bristol this season. (c) Linda G.

Harris-Wright would have been McIlwaine’s team mate at Bristol next season but for his move back to Ireland to join Connacht. The hooker only joined the Championship team in November, leaving Leinster in the hope of getting more game time. The 24-year-old was rated highly enough to have made 11 appearances for Leinster, but the signing of Sean Cronin meant opportunities would have been limited. Unfortunately, Harris-Wright’s time at Bristol was disrupted by injuries, restricting him to 5 starts and a total of 11 appearance.

More encouragingly, Harris-Wright was first-choice at Bristol when fit, and he started both legs of their promotion play-off semi-final loss to the Cornish Pirates. Eric Elwood and Dan McFarland at Connacht will be well aware of what Harris-Wright offers. Having played in the back-row, the Dublin man is a strong ball-carrier, and his set-piece play is generally very reliable. Connacht certainly needed an extra hooker to complement Ethienne Reynecke and Adrian Flavin. If Harris-Wright can stay fit, there’s no reason he shouldn’t see plenty of action.


David McIlwaine

Lots of people who read the Youth XV Backline piece were particularly excited about the potential of McIlwaine after viewing his highlight reel. While it’s always foolish to judge a player on a YouTube video, the fact that he made 8 appearances for Ulster before joining the Doncaster Knights at the start of the season suggests that the 22-year-old has plenty of ability. The signing of Jared Payne meant McIlwaine was unlikely to see much action at fullback this season. As it turned out, the season-long injury to the New Zealander may have allowed McIlwaine to showcase his exciting attacking game.

Still, the move to Doncaster has been a success for the ex-Ireland U18 & U19 international. The fullback started 17 games and scored 3 tries. He even took over place-kicking duties for part of the season, knocking over 12 conversions and 19 penalties. McIlwaine’s consistent form earned him a move to fellow Championship side Bristol. They finished top of the regular season table, but failed in the promotion play-offs. With no teams relegated from the Premiership, Bristol look likely to push hard again for promotion next season. McIlwaine will play a key role, and it’s very likely that we’ll see him playing Premiership rugby in the next few years.


Exiles Round-Up

Elsewhere, 22-year-old No.8 Michael Noone, once of Leinster, has left the Doncaster Knights to join fellow Championship outfit Rotherham Titans. His job there will be replace Robin Copeland, the Championship Player of the Season and now with the Cardiff Blues. Also leaving the Knights are Irish trio Michael Heaney, Royce Burke-Flynn and Gareth Quinn-McDonagh. Quinn-McDonagh is back in Ireland and will play with Ulster Bank League side Young Munster, but it’s unclear where the other two will be playing their rugby next season. All three saw plenty of game time at Doncaster this year.

Joining the Exiled Irish for next season will be Eamonn Sheridan, who will hook up with Noone at Rotherham. The talented centre is 23, and at 6’4″ and 17 stone is very physically strong. The Irish underage international can offload too, and should be a big success in the Championship. His development at Leinster last season was halted by a bad leg break, so he will be eager to impress from the off.

Another young Irish prospect on his way to the Titans is James McKinney. The Ulster man is still only 21, but the emergence of Paddy Jackson has convinced him to leave his home province. The outhalf has two Junior World Championships under his belt and made 2 appearances for Ulster this season. He has plenty of playmaking talent and is accurate off the tee. His development at Rotherham will be fascinating.

Jeremy Staunton slots a penalty during his Wasps days. (c) Chris Brown.

 Jeremy Staunton, once of Munster, is reluctantly leaving the Leicester Tigers. It’s still uncertain where, or if, he will be playing next season. The Limerick man is now 32. Read this superb piece on Staunton by the Demented Mole.

David McGowan, who has spent the last number of years with French Pro D2 side La Rochelle has decided to retire after some serious injuries in the last couple of seasons.

Rory O’Kane, who contributes plenty of interesting comments here on The Touchline, brought it to my attention that Dave Ryan, once with Munster, has been training with the USA national team.  Now in Italy with Lazio, it would be great to see Ryan playing international rugby. Rory also pointed out that Tommy Seymour, once of Ulster and now with the Warriors, is also eligible to play for the USA. He was an Irish international at U19 level and started 14 games for the Warriors this season, including 4 in the H-Cup. The winger scored 3 tries. in those appearances. One to watch.

Another one worth keeping an eye on is Jamie Smithwho Tim Ryan will be linking up with at the Dragons. Smith is a versatile 23-year-old outside back. He joined the Welsh region at the start of this season on a three-year deal, having made 15 appearances for Ulster as well as being named their Young Player of the year in 2009. Unfortunately, the Irish U19 international has had an injury hit season, limiting him to 2 starts in the PRO12. Having recently undergone surgery, the hope would be that he’s back in action next season, showcasing his pace and running threat.

If anyone has any other info on Irish players playing outside Ireland and their transfer movements, please leave a comment below. It’s important that we keep up to date with how our young players are doing abroad. Do you think the moves highlighted in this piece will be successful? Are Sheridan and McKinney right to move away?


 Photos courtesy: Daniela Pasquetti, Linda G, Chris Brown.

The Exiled Irish: Youth XV Pack

Mike Ross

Mike Ross was playing for Harlequins as recently as 2009. Will any of the players below match his success? (c) Andy Scrutton.

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.

Titans Profile: Shane Cahill     Twitter: @cahill_shane

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.

Bristol Profile: Jason Harris-Wright     Twitter: @jayharriswright

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.

Knights Profile: Royce Burke-Flynn     Twitter: @RoyceBurkeFlynn


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.

Irish Profile: James Sandford     Twitter: @JamesSandford4

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.

Twitter: @synnott_peter     Impressive Deadlift Video: Youtube


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.

Knights Profile: Michael Noone     Twitter: @Mick8noone 


Photo courtesy:  Andy Scrutton.

The Exiled Irish: Youth XV Backline

Ben Nutley and Ethan Waller Northampton Saints Academy vs Leicester Tigers Academy Franklin's Gardens 22 01 11

Stephen MacAuley (number 14) in action for Leicester’s Academy side. (c) Andy Kearns.

If you missed the opening piece of the Exiled Irish series, check it out here. The Touchline’s mission to highlight Irish professionals playing outside Ireland continues today with this selection. After a weekend where the starting teams in the Munster vs. Leinster game included only 6 players under the age of 25, this hypothetical line-up looks at some of the younger Irish players who are currently contracted in England.

Most of these guys moved with the desire for more first-team action in a professional set-up. Without the transfers, many of them would probably be playing in the Ulster Bank League, as well the occasional ‘A’ match. Their moves to England, for the large part, have given them exposure to regular first-team rugby in a fully professional environment. Part 1 includes only the back line, with a pack to follow tomorrow.

Please get involved by leaving a comment with your opinions on Irish players contracted abroad. If you’ve seen any of these guys playing, let me know your impressions. Do you think many of them will return to play in Ireland, or maybe push for international honours even if they remain in England? Would you rather see a young Irish player move to the Championship or learn his  trade in the academy/development system at home?


15. David McIlwaine

The 22-year-old fullback/wing joined Championship side Doncaster Knights from Ulster at the start of this season following the signing of Jared Payne. McIlwaine made 8 appearances on the wing for Ulster in 2010/11 but his desire to play at fullback, coupled with Payne’s arrival convinced him to move on. A former Ireland U18, U19 international, McIlwaine has settled well in Doncaster. Ever-present in the back three, he’s scored 6 tries as well as taking over the place-kicking duties midway through the season. EDIT: The latest news is that McIlwaine has signed a deal with Bristol for next season. Bristol are currently involved in the promotion play-offs, so McIlwaine could well be playing Premiership rugby next season!

Knights Profile: David McIlwaine     Twitter: @d_mcilwaine15


14. Stephen MacAuley

The 19-year-old was predominantly a fullback at underage level, but has played plenty of rugby on the wing too. A standout player in the 2010 Leinster Schools Cup for Clongowes, MacAuley opted to take up an Academy offer from Leicester Tigers at the start of the 2010/11 season with Leinster slow to make a move. This season, he has been prolific for the Tigers’ Academy side, scoring 9 tries in 14 starts. He has also made a handful of appearances for the ‘A’ team. A senior debut should follow sooner rather than later.

Tigers Profile: Stephen MacAuley

13. Shane Monahan

One of the large Irish contingent at the Rotherham Titans, 25-year-old Monahan has played on the wing for most of his career. He lists his preferred position as outside centre though, so is included at 13. The ex-Leinster and Connacht wide man had a serious reputation at underage level, helping Ireland to their famous U20 Grand Slam in 2007. However, opportunities at Leinster and Connacht were few and far between. Monahan, a physically imposing winger, has dotted down 10 times for the Titans already in his debut season. EDIT: Monahan’s form has earned him a move to Gloucester for next season, so he will definitely be playing Premiership rugby!

Titans Profile: Shane Monahan     Twitter: @themainmanmono

12. Gareth Quinn-McDonagh


Quinn-McDonagh in action for Shannon at the start of the season. (c) Liam Coughlan.

20-year-old Quinn-McDonagh is mainly an outhalf, but is equally comfortable at inside centre. The Shannon man was in his second year of the Munster Academy when he decided to join the Doncaster Knights on a short-term loan in February. Since then, the ex-Ireland U19 and U20 international has established himself as first-choice and his stock has risen with some strong displays. The youngster is enjoying himself, claiming that the Championship is “much better than the AIL that I was playing in at home.” EDIT: Quinn-McDonagh is set to leave the Knights at the end of this season. There’s no word yet on where he is heading next.

Knights Profile: Gareth Quinn-McDonagh

11. Michael Keating

Keating is a team mate of Quinn-McDonagh and McIlwaine at Doncaster. Another  versatile player, the Ireland U20 international has featured at fullback and on the wing for the Knights this season. A Schools Junior and Senior Cup winner with Belvedere, the 22-year-old joined Leinster in 2009, but was limited to just 4 senior appearances over the next two seasons. That prompted his move to Doncaster on a one-year deal at the start of this season. He has shown his talent with 9 tries and a string of excellent performances. Has a big future wherever he chooses to play.

Knights Profile: Michael Keating     Twitter: M_Keats


10. Michael Heaney

Yet another of Doncaster’s Irish crew, Heaney is actually a scrumhalf. Fitting everyone into this team is the main concern here, so the ex-Ulster Academy is chosen at outhalf due to his strong kicking game. The 22-year-old won two Ulster Schools Cups with Methodist College before going on the represent Ireland at U19 and U20 level. A place in the Ulster set-up followed, but when Doncaster came calling in December, Heaney jumped at the opportunity. He has been vying with club captain Chris Hallam for the no. 9 jersey, but has featured far more extensively than he would have at Ulster. EDIT: Heaney is set to leave the Knights at the end of the season. Like Quinn-McDonagh, it’s still unclear where he will be playing next season.

Knights Profile: Michael Heaney     Twitter: @MichaelHeaney9

9. Paul Rowley

A graduate of the Munster Academy, Rowley joined Plymouth Albion at the beginning of this season due to the lack of opportunities at his province. Back in 2005, Rowley was a standout performer as St. Munchin’s won the Senior Schools Cup. He went on to represent Munster at U18, U19, U20 and ‘A’ levels. International honours narrowly evaded him in a competitive age-group. The 24-year-old has been unlucky with injuries, and his first season at Plymouth has seen him plagued by an ankle problem. Hopefully, surgery can remedy that and we will see the physical scrumhalf more regularly next season.

Albion Profile: Paul Rowley     Twitter: @paulrowley1987


Photo courtesy: Andy Kearns, Liam Coughlan.