Ireland’s recent U20 Six Nations campaign ended with a whimper against a grand standing, gesticulating English U20 team that got a derisive ticking off from none other than Dewi Morris, the Mole’s favourite Sky analyst. There has to be an U20 team each year so it’s difficult to know if any of these players will go onto greater things or how their careers will develop. We thought we’d focus on the five that caught our eye and follow them in the months to come.
Iain Henderson – Henderson was involved in last year’s campaign as well and the fresh faced Ulsterman stood out during the Six Nations for his strength and the elbow that he threw on the gobby English scrum half. Henderson’s strength marks him out as a real candidate for higher honours and the Mole expects to see him get capped in years to come. Henderson has been included in Ulster match day squads this season. Watch this space.
Conor Gilsenan – captain of the Clongowes cup winning team 2011, Gilsenan put himself about well throughout the tournament. Gilsenan played most of his rugby at blindside but seems more likely to be viewed as an openside in senior rugby. Genuine opensides (genuine!) are thin on the ground in Ireland but it’s a specialist skill set and it looks like Gilsenan is going to run into traffic in the market for professional blind sides.
Luke McGrath – The highly regarded McGrath has another season at U20 next year. His defence against England was tenacious and he showed his kills earlier in the tournament with a neatly taken drop goal. McGrath put a reasonable tempo on the game in the 6 Nations and has had exposure at ‘A’ level for Leinster, as well as playing for UCD in Division 1B. Boss and Reddan have nailed down the first two slots in the Leinster depth chart but both players are closer to the end of their career than the beginning and McGrath will be hoping to get some squad exposure next season.
JJ Hanrahan – Kerry man Hanrahan played centre and caught the eye against Wales with his speed and eye for the gap. The former Rockwell schoolboy played in last season’s World Championship and is currently plying his trade with UL Bohemians in Division 1B as well as representing Munster ‘A’. Munster haven’t had a home grown 12 in a number of seasons so Hanrahan will need to break the mould in order to develop further.
Shane Layden – centre on Roscrea SCT that was beaten in final by Clongowes, Roscommon Minor footballer for two seasons. Layden scored a peach of a try against Scotland and was something of a commentators’ darling. Is he a Frankie Sheehan client? Something tells me he will be if not already. Layden played fullback in the 6 Nations and had an air of leadership about him. He didn’t look to have enough pace for an out-and-out back three player so centre might be the spot for him. Connacht have been reluctant to change their first team line up so Layden is playing most of his rugby with Buccs in Division 1B this season.