It’s one of my favourite parts of the season as I get to view the Women’s and the U20’s who, having moved their fixtures to the much more accessible Donnybrook, get next weekend off to a great start with the U20’s playing Friday night and the Women on Saturday afternoon at the same venue.
Unfortunately, despite a reasonable representation in the senior squad Ulster still continue to be under achieving in the Women’s and the Under 20’s!
The Ulster representation in the 30 player Women’s squad comes in at a paltry two with only Nikki Caughey and Claire McLaughlin making the cut. [There are two other Ulster born players in the squad, Melissa Muldoon, currently playing in Wales, and Nora Stapleton, based in Dublin, though only Muldoon has represented Ulster in the past.]
Ulster Women lost three out of three Inter Provincial matches at the start of the season and despite improving dramatically throughout the series the 6.7% representation is a fair reflection of where they are at the moment, bearing in mind the unavailability of “star player” Ashleigh Baxter who has committed to Sevens Rugby this season.
With, ex Ireland Women’s Coach, Philip Doyle now going into his second year of involvement with Ulster Women I hope to see a few more Ulster names in the Ireland Squad ahead of the 2017 Women’s World Cup. Exciting youngster’s Kathryn Dane and Naomi McCullagh should be there or there about and experienced players Eliza Downey and Jemma Jackson only need minor tweaks to their game to get back in the reckoning.
The Irish U20’s features four Ulster Players with Robert Lyttle, Johnny McPhillips, Jacob Stockdale and Adam McBurney making the cut for the 30 man Six Nations Squad. [Sam Arnold would also make the cut but I suspect he’s being held back at Ravenhill as he will feature for the senior Ulster side over the Six Nations.]
Again I can’t really say that Ulster are under represented as, like the Women, the Ulster U20’s lost all three of their Inter Provincial matches at the start of the season. I caught up with the team for their opening Inter Provincial against Munster where they threw the game away, through indiscipline and three yellow cards, in a one point defeat, but it appears that it all went down hill from there with resounding losses to Connacht and Leinster.
I haven’t seen enough of the Ulster youngsters in the AIL to determine who should be there or there about for the World Rugby U20 Championship at the end of the season but I was particularly impressed with the Ulster centre pairing of Alex Kane and Kieran Joyce in their match against Munster.
The senior squad see’s the best Ulster representation with Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Jared Payne, Andrew Trimble, Rory Best and Rob Herring all making the cut for the 35 man squad. [Probably not too bad considering Ian Henderson, Chris Henry and Tommy Bowe are out crocked but I don’t know what Craig Gilroy has to do to be included.]
At the time of writing I see that Luke Marshall and Rob Herring have been returned to the Ulster squad so we’re looking at a maximum of six players in the match day 23 which is about right.
Going forward it’s hard to say what the Ulster involvement is going to be. All the Provinces are much the same with Ulster putting in some of the best, and also the worst, performances this season. None of the Irish sides looks over confident at the minute and future involvement with Ireland will depend on what style Schmidt eventually settles on and whatever team strings together a prolonged series of results. At the moment Ulster look the most likely, but Schmidt is going to have to change tactics if the Ulster players are going to prosper at the highest level.
Lack of forward power!
The main concern, across the three squads is that there are only three Ulster forwards in the reckoning and all three are hookers. Ireland Captain Rory Best leads the way but, as I said, Herring has been released which is an extraordinary decision given his recent form. The only other forward is Adam McBurney who, while excellent at U20 level, is going to have a tough enough job breaking in to Ulster with Best, Herring and John Andrew already in place.
Henry and Henderson are shoo ins when fit but for years and years Ulster have struggled to produce big men (and women for that matter) in the boiler room the last big Ulster pairings coming from Blair, Davidson and Longwell back in 2003. While the senior squad have brought in imports Harrison, Muller and van der Merwe as their second row mainstays the same option isn’t available for the Women and the Under 20’s and during the last twelve years our development of local talent has been sketchy
Tim Barker, Lewis Stevenson and Neil McComb were in and out of favour and Henderson and Diack “forced to serve” from their natural back row positions. The two “Irish Qualified” incumbents, Dan Tuohy and Alan O’Connor, began their careers in England and Leinster respectively though O’Connor has completed a season in the Ulster Academy.
New signing Kieran Treadwell looks a big unit, if a bit rangy, but surely the Academy can find some home grown talent to assist with World Domination.
|Ireland Six Nations Squads|
|Niamh Briggs (Munster)||Matthew Byrne (Leinster)||Keith Earls (Munster)|
|Liz Burke (Munster)||Brett Connon (Exlies)||Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster)|
|Nikki Caughey (Ulster)||Shane Daly (Munster)||Robbie Henshaw (Connacht)|
|Mairead Coyne (Connacht)||Hugo Keenan (Leinster)||Paddy Jackson (Ulster)|
|Aine Donnelly (Leinster)||Terry Kennedy (Leinster)||David Kearney (Leinster)|
|Mary Healy (Connacht)||Stephen Kerins (Connacht)||Rob Kearney (Leinster)|
|Claire McLaughlin (Ulster)||Paul Kiernan (Munster)||Ian Madigan (Leinster)|
|Larissa Muldoon (Skewen)||Robert Lyttle (Ulster)||Kieran Marmion (Connacht)|
|Sene Naoupu (Connacht)||Johnny McPhillips (Ulster)||Luke Marshall (Ulster)|
|Elise O’Byrne White (Leinster)||Conor O’Brien (Leinster)||Stuart McCloskey (Ulster)|
|Jackie Shiels (Exile)||Jimmy O’Brien (Leinster)||Conor Murray (Munster)|
|Nora Stapleton (Leinster)||John Poland (Munster)||Jared Payne (Ulster)|
|Jack Power (Leinster)||Eoin Reddan (Leinster)|
|Jacob Stockdale (Ulster)||Jonathan Sexton (Leinster)|
|Andrew Trimble (Ulster)|
|Simon Zebo (Munster)|
|Elaine Anthony (Munster)||James Bollard (Leinster)||Rory Best (Ulster)|
|Ciara Cooney (Leinster)||Kelvin Brown (Munster)||Sean Cronin (Leinster)|
|Ailis Egan (Leinster)||Peter Claffey (Connacht)||James Cronin (Munster)|
|Grainne Egan (Connacht)||Will Connors (Leinster)||Ultan Dillane (Connacht)|
|Paula Fitzpatrick (Toulouse)||Max Deegan (Leinster)||Tadhg Furlong (Leinster)|
|Orla Fitzsimons (Leinster)||Shane Fenton (Munster)||Jamie Heaslip (Leinster)|
|Zoe Grattage (Munster)||John Foley (Munster)||Rob Herring (Ulster)|
|Ciara Griffin (Munster)||Cillian Gallagher (Connacht)||Mike McCarthy (Leinster)|
|Claire Molloy (Bristol)||Greg Jones (Leinster)||Jack McGrath (Leinster)|
|Cliodhna Moloney (Leinster)||Conor Kenny (Connacht)||Martin Moore (Leinster)|
|Heather O’Brien (Toulouse)||Adam McBurney (Ulster)||Sean O’Brien (Leinster)|
|Fiona O’Brien (Leinster)||Sean O’Connor (Munster)||Tommy O’Donnell (Munster)|
|Ciara O’Connor (Connacht)||Conan O’Donnell (Connacht)||Rhys Ruddock (Leinster)|
|Ruth O’Reilly (Connacht)||Andrew Porter (Leinster)||Donnacha Ryan (Munster)|
|Lindsay Peat (Leinster)||James Ryan (Leinster)||CJ Stander (Munster)|
|Fiona Reidy (Munster)||Dan Walsh (Munster)||Richardt Strauss (Leinster)|
|Marie Louise Reilly (Leinster)||Devin Toner (Leinster)|
|Sophie Spence (Leinster)||Josh van der Flier (Leinster)|
|Nathan White (Connacht)|