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Breakthrough Candidates: Ireland

Breakthrough Candidates: Ireland

Ireland sit top of the World Rugby rankings going into 2023 and with a host of young guns emerging to bolster Andy Farrell’s squad, they may take some toppling.

Head coach Farrell will hope Ireland can live up to their tag as top dogs when the latest instalment of Rugby’s Greatest Championship begins in a few weeks’ time, having finished a close second to 2022 Grand Slam winners France.

Should Farrell wish to freshen up his chargers, there are several talented young prospects who have put their hand up with impressive displays in both the United Rugby Championship and in European action.

He may be reluctant to tinker with his squad too much in a World Cup year, but with form and injuries bound to impact his selection for the Guinness Six Nations and beyond, let’s take a look at those who are waiting in the wings.

Joe McCarthy – 1 cap

Farrell has already earmarked Joe McCarthy as a player with “tremendous potential” and handed the second row a first senior cap in the Autumn Nations Series.

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Having been born in New York, McCarthy is not your typical Irish prospect but the country’s rugby blueprint is certainly not foreign to this burgeoning 21-year-old.

He first gained national attention during the 2020 Under-20 Six Nations campaign, appearing from the bench in all three matches before the Covid-19 pandemic brought proceedings to a premature end.

Since then, he has made great strides at Leinster where he has, naturally, been thrust into an environment that prides itself on winning.

McCarthy started in the quarter and semi finals of Leinster’s 2021/22 United Rugby Championship season, scoring in the former against Edinburgh Rugby, while he was also a late substitute in last year’s Heineken Champions Cup final.

He was one of just five new faces named in Farrell’s 40-man squad for the tour of New Zealand in the summer, before his first international minutes came in Round 4 of the Autumn Nations Series against Australia.

Standing at 6ft 6 and 120kg, he won’t be hard to miss if Farrell offers him more chances to impress in the spring.

  • Breakthrough Candidates: Wales

    Nathan Doak – 0 caps

    Nathan Doak is on the cusp of doing what his father, Neil, a former Ulster scrum-half and coach, never did – winning a senior cap for Ireland.

    Doak Senior was named in the Ireland squad for the 2002 Six Nations and 2003 Rugby World Cup but never pulled on the famous green jersey.

    His son, an unusually tall scrum-half, standing at 6ft 1, has represented Emerging Ireland on a couple of occasions and could well make the final step up in 2023.

    Doak’s Ulster debut came later than he would have liked, with a combination of the pandemic and appendicitis to blame, but he has certainly made up for lost time since, having made 25 appearances for the Ulstermen in the 2021/22 campaign, 13 of which came as a starter.

    Doak only switched from fly-half to scrum-half as a 17-year-old and continued to line up at out-half while at school, so he may prove a versatile option from the bench for this Championship and for many to follow.

  • Breakthrough Candidates: England

    Cian Prendergast – 1 cap

    Perhaps the most high-profile name on this list, Cian Prendergast was knocking on the door for some time prior to his international bow in the autumn.

    Prendergast was a second-half replacement in Ireland’s hard-fought 35-17 win over Fiji and may feel he could have made more of an impact against the Pacific Islanders, having made a couple of uncharacteristic errors.

    The 6ft 4 powerhouse is something of a perfectionist – such is his desire to improve that Connacht director of rugby, Andy Friend, has had to request that this bustling back-rower leave the training field and go home on occasions, rather than continually working on ‘extras.’

    Most commonly used as a flanker but also capable of playing No.8, Prendergast does most of his carrying in wider channels, showing that there is more to his game than merely muscle and mass.

    Farrell has been an admirer for some time – Prendergast was the sole ‘development player’ named in Ireland’s 2022 Guinness Six Nations squad, validating his claim as the next in line for a spot in the Irish back row.