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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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 Smith, who 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.