After another action-packed 12 months of domestic and international rugby, the stage has been set for the next cohort of young stars to shine at the 2022 Guinness Six Nations.
Ahead of the latest instalment of Rugby’s Greatest Championship, a new generation of Irish players have stepped into the spotlight for their clubs and country.
Michael Lowry, Mack Hansen, Kieran Treadwell, Gavin Coombes and Robert Baloucoune have all impressed enough to be named in the 37-man Ireland squad for the 2022 Six Nations.
And with the start of the competition on the horizon, we have looked at those young Irish stars ready to play a significant role in this year’s Championship.
Michael Lowry (Ulster, 0 Caps)
Uncapped 23-year-old Michael Lowry has created quite the buzz after being selected in Andy Farrell’s squad.
The versatile back has been one of the standout stars in the United Rugby Championship during the past 12 months and hopes to break into Farrell’s starting team during the Guinness Six Nations.
He can play at either fly-half or full-back and has electric pace, with his stepping ability, at points, drawing comparisons to South African icon Cheslin Kolbe.
Wherever he plays for Ireland, it has become abundantly clear that there is something special about the youngster.
Mack Hansen (Connacht, 0 caps)
Mack Hansen is another uncapped star in the making who will hope to make a splash once the Championship gets underway.
Hansen was born in Australia but qualified to play for Ireland through his Cork-born mother, and now the winger will be looking to make his debut in the famous green jersey.
His stunning start to life at Connacht has seen him score six tries in eight United Rugby Championship matches, and now he’ll have an opportunity to take that impressive form into the international arena.
Ireland fans have plenty to look forward to, with the winger currently first in the rankings for tries, clean breaks and meters gained in the leaguethis season.
Kieran Treadwell (Ulster, 3 caps)
It has been a long journey back to the international stage for age-grade sensation Kieran Treadwell.
The lock represented both Ireland and England at U18 and U20 levels, respectively, before winning three caps under Joe Schmidt during a summer tour in 2017.
Since then, he’s shown how hard he’s prepared to work, doing a lot of the dirty work that so often goes unseen across 116 appearances for Ulster.
He’s rightly been rewarded with a new opportunity to impress at international level, but this time around, he’s a stronger, faster and a far more mature player.
Gavin Coombes (Munster, 2 Caps)
Powerful No.8 Gavin Coombes is another Munster youngster ready to step up, having already made his debut for Ireland against Japan in the Autumn Nations Series.
His first try came shortly after, scoring against the USA in a 71-10 win, but the 24-year-old can’t expect any walkovers this time around.
He’s been heralded as one of Ireland’s most exciting young talents, picking up Munster’s Player of the Year award last season and Young Player of the Year at the 2021 Rugby Players Ireland Awards.
This Guinness Six Nations will be the perfect opportunity for the back row forward to make the No.8 jersey his own and show precisely why he is so highly rated.
Robert Baloucoune (Ulster, 2 caps)
Robert Baloucoune was impressive when he started Ireland’s final November game against Argentina, but there is even more to come from the 24-year-old winger.
The 6ft5 back has shown impeccable defensive awareness and skill under the high ball at club level, but if his try against the USA taught us anything, it’s that his step is lethal.
If opposition defences give Baloucoune even the smallest amount of space, you can expect him to light up stadiums across Europe.
At such a young age, it’s clear that Baloucoune has an exciting future ahead of him. And if this list is anything to go by, so do Ireland under Farrell.