With the national and provincial season complete, the timing is right to investigate and delve into the movements the IRFU have been making for both province and country this season.
This is alongside new plans which have been put in place for elite player development, provincial and club game investment plus the growth of an ever-improving Sevens programme.
While all of these strategies are designed to drive on-field performance, there are still areas for improvement through better execution.
One area the IRFU is placing greater emphasis on is the need for to create better depth within the national team. The best players need to be getting game time regularly and to do that some players have made provincial transfers.
The case of Cian Kelleher going from in and out of the Leinster 23 in search of first XV rugby and playing European Cup rugby is one such example. There have however been situations to ignite the movement but with failed outcomes.
There was talk of Jack Conan making the move to Ulster but he wanted to stay at Leinster. This is all the more revealing considering out of all the provinces, Leinster’s back row depth is massive. And given how Conan performed during the summer tour, he would have been an exceptional addition to the northern province.
Obviously the player cannot be forced to move but the question of culture must be raised. Perhaps the provinces need to work harder at making themselves more marketable and accommodating as a long term choice for a player outside of that province.
Another recent loss is that of Dominic Ryan and former Ireland u-20 hooker Tadhg McElroy, who have both made the move to England. Keeping these players in Ireland has been identified as a priority but more effort must be made by that of the provinces to ensure our best players do not continue to hold the tackle bags at their home provinces.
One of the great successes arranged for next season is seeing players returning back to Ireland.
Munster have much-loved favourite JJ Hanrahan returning accompanied by the likes of James Hart and Chris Farrell as part of an enhanced backline. Hopefully next season when it comes to the business of establishing and renewing contracts, the provinces will need to make their moves quick.
With the loss of Donnacha Ryan to Racing 92 in France, filling the gap with Irish players such as Tadhg Beirne who was exceptional for the Scarlets for their Pro12 title triumph would help bridge that gap.
Other players beyond these shores such as Oliver Jager, Marty Moore and Ben Betts will hopefully be monitored and brought back into the Irish system sooner rather than later.
While it is too early to see the results of the new player development programmes the IRFU has implemented, they are on the right track with regards to the services provided to promising youngsters. However, there are still issues with the under-age game in this country.
It was a bad year by for the u-20s by their standards compared to previous peer groups in finishing this year’s World Championship in ninth place. Admittedly, injuries took their toll on the team in that key players were ruled out before the tournament even commenced.
However, with the likes of Joey Carbery coming through this system, it is worthwhile to keep going and not to be too concerned with the poor showing in Georgia.
Additionally, there are two changes that have been made to the u-20 programme that must be reconsidered. This season saw the Interprovincial competition rebranded as an u-20/Development contest.
This resulted in provinces fielding and prioritising many academy contracted players (mostly aged over 20) as an avenue to get game time. As a result, not as many u-20 eligible players were exposed thereby hindering player development. In addition, Connacht did not complete in the competition this year meaning that the player pool was much more limited. In terms of better execution, the competition must revert back to operating at u-20 level with all four provinces represented.
Peter Nagle, Pundit Arena
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