This cohort of u20s finished 2-1-2 in the u20 Championship. The forwards occasionally struggled to establish dominance but a number of the backs caught the eye. Following from last year’s group, we thought we’d do a 4 Up 2013, concentrating on a player from each of the provinces.
Olding travelled to the JWC12 and started at second centre for the last two games, victories over England and France. He was involved with Ulster upon his return, landing a conversion against Munster down in Thomond in December 2012. Olding got his first full start against the Ospreys at out half in a 12-16 loss and started five league games straight as injuries to Luke Marshall and Paddy Wallace opened the door to the twelve jersey. Olding came on against Saracens in the dying minutes of the Heineken Cup quarter final and looked classy.
Olding made two appearances for the u20s in the 2013 Championship, both at full back in matches against Wales (15-17) and France (22-5). Olding’s versatility is striking and suggests real football ability which is reinforced when watching him. He looks capable of stepping straight into Paddy Wallace’s shoes at first centre and creating real competition for both Paddy Jackson and Luke Marshall.
BRA alumni Olding is playing his club rugby with Belfast Harlequins and is in the Ulster Academy. The 88kg 1.78m Olding follows in the footsteps of recent URSC Jack Kyle bursary winners Craig Gilroy and Iain Henderson and looks set for a successful professional career with representative honours at the highest level.
Rory follows in brother Niall’s footsteps as an underage international and started all five games in the championship, four at first centre and one at out half. He coolly nailed the conversion of Ireland’s final try against Italy to grab a draw and displayed good habits throughout the competition. Scannell is playing for Dolphin in Division 1A of the AIL and upon his return from the underage championship has bedded down at second centre with Danny Barnes occasionally moving to the wing to accommodate Scannell and Munster academy player Cian Bohane.
Danny Barnes and Scott Deasy are barring his way at A level in the B&I Cup. Barnes is one of the names that crops up when reviewing Scannell’s season. Barnes started 9 of Munster’s first 12 games in 2011-12 scoring four tries and also started in the Magners League final in May 2011. Will Chambers and Keith Earls then got more of a look in at second centre before Casey Laulala’s signing closed the door on Barnes who has started one game under Rob Penney and that on the wing. When comparing Barnes, who is only 23, and Scannell you get an impression of there being a relatively small window of opportunity for professional players to bed down a place in a squad.
Henshaw is still listed as a first year Academy member at Connacht but has nailed down a first choice spot at Connacht and signed a deal until 2015 that makes him full time. Before joining Connacht Henshaw captained Marist College to a Connacht Schools’ Cup win as well as playing minor football for Westmeath.
Having come off the bench in the first few games of the league, Henshaw made his starting debut against Glasgow in the centre during September. He has since started 18 matches at full back in both the Rabo Pro 12 and the Heineken Cup. Henshaw also played full back for the u20s in the Championship win against England.
Henshaw’s name cropped up in the 2012 5 Up series when discussing Shane Layden. Both Buccs men, the big contrast between the two is injuries and Henshaw has proved durable enough to play a lot of senior rugby at a young age thus getting valuable experience and name recognition, which never hurts. Henshaw scored his first try at senior level against Edinburgh and will have a new head coach next season when Pat Lam takes over at Connacht. There will also be a new Ireland coach and it will be interesting if Connacht’s players get more chances in the new regime than when Declan Kidney was in charge.
We had a look at Daly before and I was very tempted to follow the progress of Steve Crosbie, the Old Belvedere fly half who looks a very tidy footballer. Drico’s retirement weighed the scales in Daly’s favour. Although the General has yet to make a formal decision the day is not long away and if it is not at the end of this season then it will surely be at the end of the next (please let it be next year!). That will leave a gaping hole in Leinster’s midfield and someone will have to fill the 13 shirt. While Eoin O’Malley is the heir apparent he has struggled with injury and Daly is a contender.
At 192cm and 102kg, he is a different build to either O’Malley or O’Driscoll. Daly started all of Ireland’s games in the u20 Championship and also handled the place kicking duties, nailing seven kicks against France.
Daly, who turns 20 in July 2013, is not in the Leinster Academy but made four starts for Lansdowne on their way to a first AIL title. Representative call ups after Christmas prevented him from adding to that total. He also appeared off the bench in the B&I Cup.
Although the AIL has lost a lot of its lustre, it remains a prized league for those involved and provides exposure to senior level competition along with development opportunities for young players. The B&I Cup is also developing into a proper competition that offers a taste of professional rugby. The English teams that compete are from the Championship and many of the line ups feature familiar names with Rabo Pro 12 experience.
Like Henshaw, Daly has an inter-county GAA background and it is interesting to note the number of quality athletes competing in both codes at a young age. Rugby provides the opportunity to make a living as a professional athlete while the legacy created by the likes of Keith Wood and Brian O’Driscoll along with success in the Heineken Cup has increased rugby’s visibility massively. The sport’s ability to attract top quality athletes from outside its traditional catchment area is an encouraging sign for the development of the game in Ireland.