Category Archives: The Exiled Irish

Ireland’s Fifth Province

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The following is a guest post by Rory O’Kane.

Ireland’s official rugby anthem Ireland’s Call mentions the four proud provinces of Ireland in its lyrics but fails to mention the Irish Exiles, who have been fundamental to Irish rugby. The Exiles system has provided us with players of the calibre of Simon Geoghegan, Simon Easterby, Rob Henderson and Nick Popplewell. The latter trio were Test Lions, while Geoghegan was touted as a likely Lion prior to injury in 1997.

With Ireland having a relatively small rugby population, Ireland needs the biggest player pool it can possibly get and the Exiles system facilitates the growth of Irish rugby’s player pool.

In recent years the link with the Irish exiles had weakened. Players such as Shane Geraghty, Andrew Sheridan, Nick Kennedy, Paul Doran-Jones (Ireland U19, U21) and Kieran Brookes (Ireland U18, U19, U20) slipped through the net. However, Irish rugby wasn’t overly concerned; after all it was too busy basking in the success of the “golden generation” of 2004-09 with three Triple Crowns, a first Grand Slam in 61 years and the unprecedented success of the provinces at Heineken Cup level.

It took the 2012 scrum fiasco in Twickenham for the IRFU to decide to strengthen the Exile link with the intention of increasing Irish rugby’s player pool and, more particularly, to unearth a few tight-head props. The IRFU have since appointed Mark Blair as the Development Manager for the Irish Exiles, an arm of the IRFU that runs representative sides for Irish-qualified players based in England, Scotland and Wales. He commented upon his appointment:

“This is a full-time IRFU position because they want to work much more closely with the Exiles. We feel we are only scratching the surface of the players in England, Scotland and Wales that are available to play for Ireland.

It is an alternative opportunity and we are not trying to take players away from anywhere else. But we want to offer that choice to young players of being eligible to play for Ireland.

The recession has seen more Irish people move to Britain and we want to give a pathway for young-Irish qualified players to progress their rugby with the possibilities of international rugby and also the chance to move to Ireland.”

The IRFU already appear to be reaping the rewards of utilising their Exile branch again. No less than 7 Exiles being involved with Ireland U20’s this season:

2013 Irish U20 Exiles

Conor Joyce (Ulster Rugby):  Solihull-born Joyce down the Leicester Tigers academy to join Ulster last season.  The 6ft 3ins blindside/no. 8 has made seven appearances for the U20s this year and has even captained the side against Fiji. He is held in high regard in Ravenhill and even made his Ulster debut against Glasgow in February.

George McGuigan (Newcastle Falcons): Standing at 6ft and 105kg, the hooker has been a mainstay in the no. 2 jersey for Ireland making six U20 appearances. In April, he was rewarded with a one-year contract at Newcastle, despite not having made his Falcons’ debut yet. He has made the first team bench as an unused substitute. McGuigan spent last season on a dual-registration deal with Tynesdale in National League 1.

Ryan Furness (Worcester Warriors): The tighthead prop has been battling Adam Boland and Chris Taylor for the number 3 jersey. Despite regularly making the match day squads in both the Six Nations and JWC he has yet to start. Furness has made two first team appearances for Worcester Warriors.

David Panter (Connacht Rugby): The 5ft 11ins Surrey-born fullback was identified through the Exiles system and signed by the Connacht academy. A former Ireland U18 clubs international, he has made five Ireland U20 appearances and is part of the JWC squad.

Alex Wootton (Northampton Saints): The Saints winger was called up to replace the injured Tom Daly in the current JWC. Wootten was part of Northampton’s squad for the 2012 Premiership 7s. He was capped at U16 level by England. The speedster spent this season on a dual-registration deal at Cambridge. Wootten is eligible for the Ireland U20s again next season.

Jake Caulfield (Ulster Rugby): The 6ft 3ins, 18 stone prop from Western-Supermare spent two seasons in the London Irish academy before joining Bristol for a season. In October of 2012 Ulster signed him on a 3-year contract. He also had a spell in New Zealand with Petone in Wellington. Caulfield is a former England U16 and U17 international and can play both sides of the scrum. He made 1 Ireland U20 appearance vs Wales in the Six Nations.

Alex O’ Meara From the famed Hartpury College, the winger made his single Ireland U20 appearance vs Wales in the Six Nations.

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You can follow Rory O’Kane, author of this piece, on Twitter. You can also follow the Irish Exiles on Twitter. For more on Irish players based abroad, click the ‘Exiled Irish’ tab at the top of the page.

The Exiled Irish: A New Zealand Tale

Semple kicking for goal in East Coast colours.

Semple kicking for goal in East Coast colours.

Currently training with Hawke’s Bay as part of their wider squad ahead of the ITM Championship, which kicks off in August, Ulsterman John Semple has enjoyed much success since arriving in New Zealand last year. He has risen through the ranks of the club game and says “I’m going to keep pushing and playing as hard as I can.” So far, he describes his experience as “awesome” and feels that other Irish players could benefit from a similar move.

Semple’s rugby career started at Limavady CRFC, near his hometown of Drumsurn in County Derry. Even at that level, his potential was apparent and he was part of the Ulster Junior team for two seasons in a row.

After finishing his studies, the outhalf stepped up the levels by joining Ballymena. In Division 1B of the AIL, the squad included other talented young players like Luke Marshall and Ricky Andrew. But things got off to a bad start for the Semple:

“Just coming up to the start of the AIL, I broke my leg. I healed pretty quickly and was good to go by January, but then I re-broke my leg in April.”

It was a frustrating season for Semple, who found himself playing on the wing when he was fit. He visited several doctors, before surgery to place a plate in his leg helped him to fully recover from injury. By that time, a decision to move to New Zealand had been made. Rugby was the motivating factor:

“When I set out, it was mostly just to play rugby. I’m a qualified pharmacist at home. But in New Zealand, I’d have had to do extra exams so I just thought, ‘Stuff that I’ll go and play rugby for a year and see what happens.'”

Semple and his East Coast teammates, including Rua Tipoki, after their Meads Cup success.

Semple and his East Coast teammates, including Rua Tipoki, after their Meads Cup success.

Kiwi friends made during his Limavady days helped Semple to organise a team in Christchurch, which has “some of the strongest club rugby in all of New Zealand.” Semple had a strong season with New Brighton in the Senior Division 1, but a step up to play representative rugby for Canterbury would have been huge.

Fortunately, another union had spotted Semple’s talent: “I got picked up by a smaller team, in the Heartland Championship. It’s a division below the ITM and it plays all over New Zealand, so that was pretty good. It was a team called Ngati Porou East Coast. It’s a big Maori team.”

The rise in standard proved no problem for Semple, as East Coast topped the 2012 Heartland Championship regular season table, before going on the win the Meads Cup with a miraculous comeback against Wanganui in the final. Semple says the entire experience was special:

“Unbelievable. Over the previous five seasons or so, East Coast had been awful, one of the worst teams. They’re one of the smallest teams in New Zealand in terms of the pool of players. The final was on national TV here. There was even a flash haka at half-time, 100 people out on the pitch banging out a haka!”

Semple says playing in a Maori club has been another highlight:

“The Maori culture in the East Coast is times ten what you find everywhere else in New Zealand. It’s so different, but it’s a real family atmosphere and everyone’s got your back, that shows on the pitch.”

Learning the Ngati Porou pre-match haka took some time, but by the end of the season, he “felt so much more confident with it. Once you know it, you get a massive buzz out of it, and you’re really pumped up for the start of the match. It’s pretty special.”

The Ngatai Porou haka.

The Ngati Porou haka.

Immediately outside Semple in that East Coast backline was player/coach Rua Tipoki, an old favourite at Munster. According to the Ulsterman, Tipoki’s still got it:

“He’s class. He’s obviously a little older now, but he’s got really fast feet, great footwork in close quarters. I’d just push a pass to him and all of a sudden he’d be through a hole.”

Semple’s excellence in steering East Coast around the pitch, place-kicking and bravery in defence in that run to Meads Cup victory led to more attention. The Hawke’s Bay Magpies proved the most attractive option and Semple joined their wider training squad for the start of this season. The ITM Championship doesn’t kick off until August, but training has been hectic nonetheless:

“We’ve been training for months now. We’re in the gym four times a week, and then we have club training Tuesdays and Thurdays, and Hawke’s Bay training on Mondays and Wednesdays. It’s pretty full on, a lot of training to be done, but I’m really enjoying it. It’s been awesome.”

Over the past two months, Semple has been playing club rugby with Taradale in the Nash Cup:

“All the guys training together at the moment with Hawke’s Bay, we play club rugby against each other every weekend. A few weeks ago I played against Ihaia West, who was the starting 10 for Hawke’s Bay last season.”

Semple lining out for Taradale in the Nash Cup.

Semple lining out for Taradale in the Nash Cup.

Playing with and against quality players at club level has obvious benefits. Semple feels that the attitude towards club rugby is something that is far better in New Zealand when compared to Ireland:

“Back home there’s contracted players who stay out of club rugby as much as possible. Maybe it’s different for academy players. The older players contracted to Ulster, they don’t even watch that much club rugby.

Over here, I’ve played with Super Rugby players who’ve maybe got a break from Super 15, a bye week, and they’ll think nothing of coming to play club rugby.”

The bigger names who Semple has already played with or against include Ryan Crotty, Jason Eaton, Tyler Bleyendaal, Andrew Horell, Gillies Kaka and Dan Waenga. Possibly involved in Hawke’s Bay’s ITM campaign will be Alby Mathewson, Ben Franks and “lots of New Zealand 7s guys.”

Hawke’s Bay will cut their wider squad down in around four weeks, but Semple is ambitious enough to make it:

“The sky’s the limit really. I came to New Zealand to play the highest level of rugby I could and I’m still climbing that ladder. I want to go as far as I can go. I’m going to keep pushing and playing as hard as I can. We’ll see.”

For other Irish rugby players who are thinking of moving away from home to play rugby and enjoy new experiences, Semple has nothing but encouragement:

“I’d say take a year out and have a go. Nothing at home is going to change. Just have a go is what I’d say. It’s easy really, all you have to do is get in contact with a club and they’ll try and help you out any way they can.

I’ve learned ten times more out here than I would have at home.”

The Exiled Irish: The Exiles

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London Irish was set up as a “home away from home” for the Irish in London. (c) London Irish RFC.

London Irish Rugby Football Club was founded in 1898 with the intention of providing “a welcoming home and hospitable meeting place for all Irish people” in the English capital city. Dubliner and Irish international Louis Magee was the catalyst in putting the club on the map in those early days. Over the following 115 years, the number of Irish-qualified players on the Exiles’ cards has varied, although the likes of Conor O’Shea, David Humphreys, Mark McCall and Niall Woods were part of a big group there in the first few years of professional rugby.

In 2008, Keith Wood called for London Irish to become a fifth Irish province, under the IRFU’s control. He wanted another option for players who were “unable to establish themselves in Ireland.” That kind of wholesale takeover was never realistic, but the idea wasn’t completely nonsensical. While the RFU would never  have allow one of their clubs to directly improve a rival nation, the potential increase in Premiership viewers based in Ireland was never fully considered.

The current day London Irish isn’t quite “a home away from home” for our professional rugby players, but there are signs of that changing. This season, they’ve fielded 7 Irish players in various competitions. 3 of those will still be at the club next season, while 2 more Irish have signed on. It’s positive to see, and hopefully a signal that London Irish are going back to their roots.

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Ian Humphreys

Alex Lewington

Humphreys (tackling) in action against Leicester in the LV= Cup. (c) Graham Wilson.

When Paddy Jackson was installed as first-choice outhalf for Ulster ahead of last season’s H Cup semi-final, Humphrey’s mind was made up. The 30-year-old signed for Irish in order to secure first-team rugby. Capped for Ireland at U19, U21, A and 7s levels, Humphreys never managed to earn full international honours despite his talent. This season, the outhalf has started all but 3 of London Irish’s Premiership games, as well as 3 in the Amlin CC and 2 in the LV= Cup.

Irish‘s form hasn’t been good. Despite talking about a top 6 finish at the beginning of the season, Brian Smith’s side have won only 7 games in the Premiership, leaving them 9th with 1 fixture left. They flirted with relegation for a while, before London Welsh’s 5-point punishment decided the issue. Humphreys has scored 142 points, including 1 try. Place-kicking duties have been rotated between himself, Tom Homer and Steve Shingler. The Exiles have already spoken about their ambitions for next season, and Humphreys will hope to play a central role.

Player Profile: Ian Humphreys     Twitter: @iHumph

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Tomas O’Leary

THOMOND PARK

O’Leary playing against Ulster during his time with Munster. (c) Liam Coughlan.

Similarly to iHumph, O’Leary left his home province after a young pretender had usurped him. In this case, Conor Murray’s rapid rise had left O’Leary as back-up at Munster and looking for a move away. Initially, it looked as though the Corkonian would be joining Perpignan, before Irish stepped in. O’Leary had a great start at the English club, despite their poor form. The scrumhalf quickly became a key man and a leader, starting all 9 of the Exiles‘ games up until the 28th of October, when he came off injured against ‘Quins.

Life at London Irish was proving very agreeable to O’Leary and he even had hopes of an international recall. The main thing was that he was “happy to be back playing regular rugby.” His interview with Gerry Thornley in the Irish Times on the 27th of October proved to be something of a curse.
The next day, he aggravated a “pre-existing lower back injury”, and eventually had surgery in December, ending his season. It’s obviously a worrying injury, but O’Leary is expected back fully fit for next season. Still only 29, he’ll hope to pick up where he left off.

Player Profile: Tomas O’Leary     Twitter: @Tomas_OLeary

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Brian Blaney

Behind Terenure..there's Brian Blaney

Blaney (left) on a advert for the AIB League in 2007! (c) Terenure RFC.

Ex-Leinster hooker Blaney joined Irish in 2010, having spent 6 seasons with Leinster. Capped at Ireland Schools and A levels, he picked up a Magners League medal in ’07/08. The peak of his playing time at Leinster was the ’05/06 season, when Blaney made 15 starts, including 6 in the Heineken Cup. After leaving Leinster at the end of the ’08/09 campaign, it looked as though his career as a professional rugby player might be over. He spent the following season with Terenure RFC as player/strength & conditioning coach.

In May 2010, London Irish announced that they’d signed Blaney to provide depth in the hooker position. Unfortunately, over the past 3 seasons appearances have been rare for Blaney, totaling 23. With Scottish international Scott Lawson and England-capped David Paice also on the books at Irish, competition has been fierce. Blaney left the club last summer, before injury problems meant the Exiles asked him to return. 5 starts over the course of the year followed. Last month, player and club parted ways for good. At 31, but with little front-line rugby in the last 3 seasons, the hooker certainly has more to offer elsewhere.

Player Profile: Brian Blaney

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Conor Gaston

22-year-old wing/fullback Gaston broke through at Ulster during the 2010/11 season, making his debut against the Dragons in the Magners League. He made 3 more appearances that season, impressing with his powerful running game. The following season, his chances were limited to just one start against Leinster, and a sub appearance against the Dragons. With Bowe, Payne, Gilroy and Trimble all well ahead of him, Gaston decided to take up the offer of a place in London Irish’s Academy at the start of this season.

The 95kg outside back got off to a great start with the Exiles, starring as his new club won the JP Morgan Premiership 7s Series. His evasiveness, pace and work-rate were all evident, making a good first impression. Since then, Gaston has mainly been involved with Irish’s A team, although he made his first senior start on the wing in the LV= Cup last December. He also racked up 4 sub appearances in the Amlin CC group stages. Interestingly, Gaston looks to be on his way out of the club already, although his next destination is unclear.

Player Profile: Conor Gaston     Twitter: @ConorGaston15

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James Sandford, John Ryan, Alan Cotter,

  Eamonn Sheridan & Jamie Hagan

Ulster-bred lock Sandford is in his 2nd season with London Irish. He was featured in last year’s Exiled Irish Youth XV, so click the link to learn about his background. This season he’s had just 2 starts, both coming in the Amlin CC. He’s had a couple of injuries this season, but is contracted until 2014.

Munster prop Ryan joined Irish on a loan spell last October as injury cover, making 2 lengthy sub appearances in the Premiership. When Ryan returned to Munster, tight head Cotter went in the opposite direction, making 4 appearances off the bench over the next month or so, before a brief stint at Bath. While they were both short-term moves, it was positive to see the Exiles look to Ireland for cover, and both young props got some playing experience.

23-year-old centre Sheridan has signed for Irish ahead of next season, joining after a year with Rotherham Titans in the Championship. The Ireland U18 and U20 international had an impressive season in Rotherham, starting 19 games and scoring 6 tries. Half of those appearances came on the wing, but at 6’4″ and 108kg, his future is certainly in the centre. A great prospect, and one to follow closely.

Hagan joins next season on a 3-year deal, moving from Leinster. The 26-year-old Wolfhounds-capped tight head will relish the chance of first-team rugby after 2 frustrating years at Leinster. He’ll surely be watched closely by the likes of Joe Schmidt and the provincial coaches.

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Photos: Liam Coughlan, Graham Wilson.

The Exiled Irish: Les Grenoblois

Grenoble

Grenoble’s Stade Lesdiguières has become home for three Irish professionals. (c) Vijay PhotoWalks.

This time a year ago, The Touchline featured an Exiled Irish piece on four Irish professionals contracted in France. Picking up in that vein, this article looks at the growing Irish community at French Top 14 club Grenoble. The Isère-based outfit currently have two Irish players on their cards, as well as a coach. James Hart and Andrew Farley are at very different stages of their careers, but both are enjoying success at Grenoble. The experiences of Hart should encourage young Irish players who miss out on Academy and provincial contracts that there are other options, while Farley’s example will surely inspire older professionals to try something different.

Meanwhile, the success of Bernard Jackman in his first season at Grenoble will be equally encouraging to young Irish coaches, as well as to other French clubs. With Jackman’s positive impact comes more international acceptance of the quality of Irish coaches. The news that Mike Pendergast will join Jackman as Grenoble’s Skills Coach may be a sign of things to come for Irish backroom staff. With 30 professional clubs spread over the Top 14 and Pro D2, as well as a host of semi-pro teams in Fédérale 1, there is far greater need for good coaches. The more Irish players and coaches we can have playing and working regularly in a professional environment, the better Irish rugby will be.

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James Hart

Hart’s move to Grenoble last summer was one that flew well under the radar. The  21-year-old halfback is Dublin-born and attended Belvedere College. His mother hails from Toulouse, and Hart’s rugby education was kick-started there. At the age of 16, Hart moved to Toulouse for transition year, living with his grandparents. He stayed for 8 months, playing for Stade Toulousain’s Cadet team alongside the likes of Jean-Marc Doussain and Nicolas Bézy. Hart claims that period made him “physically and technically stronger“. He returned to Ireland to play Schools Senior Cup, as well as for Leinster up to U20 level.

Having graduated from school in 2010, and with no Academy offer from Leinster, Hart joined AIL side Clontarf, where he was coached by Bernard Jackman. This relationship resulted in Hart joining Grenoble a year later, in the summer of 2011. His first season at FCG saw the halfback play for the Espoirs side (U23 level), while training with the pro side. This season has seen Hart make big strides. He made his first senior start last December, playing outhalf in FCG’s 20-9 win over London Welsh in the Challenge Cup. Substitue appearances followed in the return match and against Stade Francais in the same competition.

The 83kg Dubliner had to wait a little longer for his first Top 14 chance. Last month, he started at scrumhalf in the 33-16 loss away to Biarritz and then came off the bench against Bayonne just 2 weeks ago. Hart’s goal-kicking skills have seen him convert 3 penalties (one of which earned FCG a losing bonus point in the last minute) and 2 conversions in his 5 appearances so far. Grenoble appear to see the youngster as a scrumhalf, but he has plenty of experience at outhalf. He also played in the centre for Clontarf (as shown in the video above). His impressive progress this season has resulted in him signing a new two-year deal.  Certainly one to watch next season for Irish rugby fans.

Grenoble Profile: James Hart

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Andrew Farley

Farley has been captaining Grenoble since

Farley (first on left) has been captaining Grenoble since 2010. (c) Vijay PhotoWalks

Farley was one of those featured in the original Exiled Irish piece mentioned above. Born in Australia (and capped at U19 and U21 level), the second-row qualified for Ireland on residency grounds after 5 seasons with Connacht. That spell followed short stints in Italy with L’Aquila (under Mike Brewer) and Wales with Swansea. The Brisbane-native was part of the Ireland ‘A’ side who won the Plate at the 2007 Churchill Cup. In 2009, Farley decided to take up an offer from Grenoble, then in Pro D2, and hasn’t looked back since.

His first season at the Isère club saw them finish 6th, before agonisingly missing out on automatic promotion to the Top 14 by just 2 points in the ’10/11 season. Already a key player thanks to his excellent line-out work and leadership, the 112kg lock was installed as captain that season. The following year, FCG stormed to the Pro D2 title, 18 points clear of 2nd-placed Pau. Most promoted sides have serious struggles in the Top 14, but that hasn’t been the case for Grenoble. Their excellent start to the season meant they were realistically safe by Christmas. Last weekend’s stunning last-gasp win over Toulon left them 9th, with just one game to go.

32-year-old Farley has enjoyed 14 starts in the league campaign as well as 5 in the Challenge Cup. His form shows no sign of decline and he recently penned a new deal keeping him in France until the end of the ’13/14 season, with the option of another year. Grenoble are an ambitious club and look set to continue their rise. Adopted Irish man Farley will continue to play a key part.

Grenoble Profile: Andrew Farley     Twitter: @BruceFarls

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Bernard Jackman

Jackman scoring for Leinster (wearing green!) against the Reds in 2008. (c) Paul Walsh.

Jackman scoring for Leinster (wearing green!) against the Reds in 2008. (c) Paul Walsh.

Ex-Ireland, Leinster and Connacht hooker Jackman is coming to the end of his first full season as the club’s Defence Coach. The Tullow-native’s playing career saw him win 9 caps for Ireland, as well as a Heineken Cup with Leinster in 2009. He also enjoyed a spell with Sale, where he won a Challenge Cup. His coaching career began in 2005 at Newbridge Rugby Club. He led Newbridge to Leinster League Division 3 title and a Lalor Cup, before taking over at Coolmine RFC in 2007. Success followed again, culminating with the Dublin 15 side winning Leinster League Division 2 in 2009.

Jackman’s long-time club side Clontarf came calling in 2009, and he joined as Head Coach. With the Leinster hooker still playing at that stage, the ’09/10 season saw them relegated from Division 1A of the then AIB League. However, having retired from playing ahead of the ’10/11 season, Jackman helped the club bounce straight back up. The summer of 2011 saw Jackman resign for “professional developmental reasons” and he went on a two-month consultancy period with Grenoble, then in the Pro D2. Head Coach Fabrice Landreau was evidently impressed and Jackman signed on full-time for the start of the current season.

FCG’s promotion to the Top 14 meant Jackman was stepping into the fire in his new role as Defence and Skills Coach. However, Jackman and the rest of the coaching staff enjoyed a hugely positive start to the season, winning 10 of their first 15 league matches up until the New Year. Since then, the wins have been rare, just 1 in 9 games until last weekend’s win over Toulon. Still, for a promoted team it’s been a fantastic first season back in the top flight. Jackman has made a big impression and recently signed a new 1-year contract with the club, with a new title of Defence and Collisions coach. It’s great to see Irish coaches working in technical roles such as this at a top-level. That knowledge can hopefully help the Irish provinces and national team at some stage. Still only 36, Jackman has a long coaching career ahead of him. His rise looks set to continue.

Grenoble Profile: Bernard Jackman     Twitter: @bernardjackman

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Grenoble’s last game of the season is in two week’s time, May the 4th, away to Toulouse. They’re 9th (joint-8th really) heading into that game, but nothing is decided yet. Depending on the outcome, and results elsewhere, they could finish anywhere from 8th to 11th. Their achievements look all the better when you compare them to the other promoted side, Mont de Marsan. They’ve won just 2 league games all season. Grenoble are a hugely ambitious club, and should push on again next year.

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Photos: Vijay Photwalk, Paul Walsh.

The Exiled Irish: Transfers Update

Tim Ryan has left Italy to join the Dragons in the PRO12. (c) Daniela Pasquetti.

If you missed the recent Exiled Irish series, it basically involved highlighting some of the Irish players who are contracted outside Ireland. Here’s the original pieces if you need to catch up:

The Exiled Irish: Four Success Stories                The Exiled Irish: Youth XV Backline

The Exiled Irish: Youth XV Pack                                 The Exiled Irish: Allez Les Verts

The Exiled Irish: Stand Up For the Ulster Men              The Exiled Irish: Italia

In the last few weeks, a number of the players featured in these pieces have secured transfers which may take their careers to the next level. Let’s catch up with the players who have made moves ahead of next season.

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Shane Monahan

While the Rotherham Titans season finished their season with a poor Championship play-off effort (1 win in 6 games), Monahan notched two tries in that mini-series. The 25-year-old scored a total of 11 tries in 26 starts after joining from Connacht at the start of the season. His prolific form and physical presence on the wing (he also played 4 games at outside centre) has earned the Leinster Academy graduate a move to Premiership side Gloucester. The South-Western side have big ambitions, with others like Ben Morgan, Billy Twelvetrees, Jimmy Cowan and coach Nigel Davies set to join the club.

Gloucester do have strong options out wide, with Monahan set to compete with the likes of Charlie Sharples, Jonny May, Olly Morgan and James Simpson-Daniel for a place in the back-three. Still, this move can only be a positive one for the Irish man. Hopefully he gets plenty of opportunities to show his power and finishing ability. Monahan’s decision to take a risk by moving to the Championship last season looks like it may have paid off.

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Tim Ryan

After brief stints with Toulon in the Top 14 and Newcastle in the Premiership, Ryan spent this season with Italian Super 10 side Cavalieri Prato. The tighthead prop was first-choice (starting 13 games) as Cavalieri finished top of the regular season table. However, Ryan didn’t feature in the play-off stages as the Tuscan side were beaten by the Paul Griffen-led Calvisano in the two-legged final. It’s unclear whether Ryan was injured or simply not chosen due to his impending transfer to the Dragons. After those 13 league starts, as well as 6 Amlin Cup appearances, the 27-year-old has been signed by the Welsh PRO12 region.

Crucially, Ryan has secured a two-year deal which will allow him time to settle into the higher standard of the PRO12. Converted into a prop from the backrow as an 18-year-old, the question marks about Ryan during his four years with Munster were around his scrummaging. It will be interesting to see if his travels have improved that aspect of his game. His ball-carrying has always been explosive. Irish eyes will be watching the Dragons a little more closely next season.

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Jason Harris-Wright

Harris-Wright (wearing scrumcap) in action for Bristol this season. (c) Linda G.

Harris-Wright would have been McIlwaine’s team mate at Bristol next season but for his move back to Ireland to join Connacht. The hooker only joined the Championship team in November, leaving Leinster in the hope of getting more game time. The 24-year-old was rated highly enough to have made 11 appearances for Leinster, but the signing of Sean Cronin meant opportunities would have been limited. Unfortunately, Harris-Wright’s time at Bristol was disrupted by injuries, restricting him to 5 starts and a total of 11 appearance.

More encouragingly, Harris-Wright was first-choice at Bristol when fit, and he started both legs of their promotion play-off semi-final loss to the Cornish Pirates. Eric Elwood and Dan McFarland at Connacht will be well aware of what Harris-Wright offers. Having played in the back-row, the Dublin man is a strong ball-carrier, and his set-piece play is generally very reliable. Connacht certainly needed an extra hooker to complement Ethienne Reynecke and Adrian Flavin. If Harris-Wright can stay fit, there’s no reason he shouldn’t see plenty of action.

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David McIlwaine

Lots of people who read the Youth XV Backline piece were particularly excited about the potential of McIlwaine after viewing his highlight reel. While it’s always foolish to judge a player on a YouTube video, the fact that he made 8 appearances for Ulster before joining the Doncaster Knights at the start of the season suggests that the 22-year-old has plenty of ability. The signing of Jared Payne meant McIlwaine was unlikely to see much action at fullback this season. As it turned out, the season-long injury to the New Zealander may have allowed McIlwaine to showcase his exciting attacking game.

Still, the move to Doncaster has been a success for the ex-Ireland U18 & U19 international. The fullback started 17 games and scored 3 tries. He even took over place-kicking duties for part of the season, knocking over 12 conversions and 19 penalties. McIlwaine’s consistent form earned him a move to fellow Championship side Bristol. They finished top of the regular season table, but failed in the promotion play-offs. With no teams relegated from the Premiership, Bristol look likely to push hard again for promotion next season. McIlwaine will play a key role, and it’s very likely that we’ll see him playing Premiership rugby in the next few years.

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Exiles Round-Up

Elsewhere, 22-year-old No.8 Michael Noone, once of Leinster, has left the Doncaster Knights to join fellow Championship outfit Rotherham Titans. His job there will be replace Robin Copeland, the Championship Player of the Season and now with the Cardiff Blues. Also leaving the Knights are Irish trio Michael Heaney, Royce Burke-Flynn and Gareth Quinn-McDonagh. Quinn-McDonagh is back in Ireland and will play with Ulster Bank League side Young Munster, but it’s unclear where the other two will be playing their rugby next season. All three saw plenty of game time at Doncaster this year.

Joining the Exiled Irish for next season will be Eamonn Sheridan, who will hook up with Noone at Rotherham. The talented centre is 23, and at 6’4″ and 17 stone is very physically strong. The Irish underage international can offload too, and should be a big success in the Championship. His development at Leinster last season was halted by a bad leg break, so he will be eager to impress from the off.

Another young Irish prospect on his way to the Titans is James McKinney. The Ulster man is still only 21, but the emergence of Paddy Jackson has convinced him to leave his home province. The outhalf has two Junior World Championships under his belt and made 2 appearances for Ulster this season. He has plenty of playmaking talent and is accurate off the tee. His development at Rotherham will be fascinating.

Jeremy Staunton slots a penalty during his Wasps days. (c) Chris Brown.

 Jeremy Staunton, once of Munster, is reluctantly leaving the Leicester Tigers. It’s still uncertain where, or if, he will be playing next season. The Limerick man is now 32. Read this superb piece on Staunton by the Demented Mole.

David McGowan, who has spent the last number of years with French Pro D2 side La Rochelle has decided to retire after some serious injuries in the last couple of seasons.

Rory O’Kane, who contributes plenty of interesting comments here on The Touchline, brought it to my attention that Dave Ryan, once with Munster, has been training with the USA national team.  Now in Italy with Lazio, it would be great to see Ryan playing international rugby. Rory also pointed out that Tommy Seymour, once of Ulster and now with the Warriors, is also eligible to play for the USA. He was an Irish international at U19 level and started 14 games for the Warriors this season, including 4 in the H-Cup. The winger scored 3 tries. in those appearances. One to watch.

Another one worth keeping an eye on is Jamie Smithwho Tim Ryan will be linking up with at the Dragons. Smith is a versatile 23-year-old outside back. He joined the Welsh region at the start of this season on a three-year deal, having made 15 appearances for Ulster as well as being named their Young Player of the year in 2009. Unfortunately, the Irish U19 international has had an injury hit season, limiting him to 2 starts in the PRO12. Having recently undergone surgery, the hope would be that he’s back in action next season, showcasing his pace and running threat.

If anyone has any other info on Irish players playing outside Ireland and their transfer movements, please leave a comment below. It’s important that we keep up to date with how our young players are doing abroad. Do you think the moves highlighted in this piece will be successful? Are Sheridan and McKinney right to move away?

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 Photos courtesy: Daniela Pasquetti, Linda G, Chris Brown.

Easterby Takes Over at Scarlets

Easterby (left) playing for Ireland in 2007. (c) Eoin Mulvey.

Simon Easterby has been promoted to the position of Head Coach of the Scarlets following Nigel Davies’ move to Gloucester. The appointment marks a swift rise in the coaching ranks for the ex-Ireland flanker, who has been the Scarlets’ Defence Coach for the last two seasons. Easterby is still only 36, having retired at the end of the ’09/10 season due to a knee injury. That final playing season with the Scarlets saw the Yorkshire native in a player-coach role (helping with the forwards), so the progression into the backroom staff was natural.

Next season will see three foreign coaches in charge of the Irish provinces, so it’s encouraging to see an Irish coach being given a chance like this. Easterby’s appointment means there’ll be four Irish coaches in charge of British teams next season, with Conor O’Shea at Harlequins, Mark McCall at Saracens and Michael Bradley at Edinburgh. With our own provinces keen to bring in outside influences, it’s vital that young Irish coaches are getting these chances.

Easterby always looked like an ideal candidate to move into coaching after his playing career. Capped 65 times for Ireland, Easterby was a tough, uncompromising blindside. He always played with awareness and intelligence. His leadership was highlighted by five seasons as Scarlets captain, as well as leading the Irish team in ’05 with O’Connell and O’Driscoll out injured. The manner in which he forced his way into the ’05 Lions test team, after being a late call-up when Lawrence Dallaglio broke his ankle, showed his determination.

Rhys Priestland and George North

Easterby will be working with talented players like Rhys Priestland and George North at the Scarlets. (c) Sum_of_Marc.

The past two seasons have seen the Scarlets finish 5th in the PRO12, but importantly, their defence improved greatly in the season just finished. In the ’10/11 campaign, Easterby’s first in charge of defence, the Scarlets leaked 453 points and 43 tries. This season they reduced those figures to 373 and 30 tries.  In the Heineken Cup, ’10/11 saw Scarlets concede 24 tries and 191 points. This season, that was improved to 9 tries and 124 points. Those are distinct numerical improvements but there has been more to it than stats.

There were several fantastic defensive efforts throughout this season, with one standout being the 16-13 loss to Leinster in February. That day, Leinster needed a brilliant performance from Fergus McFadden, including a last-gasp winning penalty, to overcome a stifling Scarlets effort. The Welsh region’s ‘D’ that day had Easterby’s influence stamped all over it: sheer determination combined with intelligence. A single moment of stupidity from Phil John meant the Scarlets came away with nothing. But performances like that saw Easterby’s reputation in Wales rise.

Scarlets

The Scarlets’ defensive performance against a McFadden-led Leinster in February was impressive. (c) Ken Bohane.

The Scarlets have built a youthful-looking backroom team around Easterby. Ex-Wales winger Mark Jones will be the Backs Coach. His career has followed a similar trajectory to Easterby’s. He was the Scarlets captain in ’09/10 but was forced to retire at the same time as Easterby, also because of a knee injury. Jones went straight into the Scarlets coaching set up as Skills Coach. The 47-times capped Welsh international was part of 2008’s Grand Slam winning team and is still only 32.

36-year-old Danny Wilson joins the region to take up the role of Forwards Coach. He was with the Dragons in the same capacity last season and is the current Wales U20 Head Coach. Wilson doesn’t share his fellow coaches strong playing backgrounds, but is well regarded as a coach having worked with London Welsh , the WRU Academy and various national underage teams.

36-year-old Brad Harrington is another part the backroom set-up. The Australian had a three year spell with Leinster from ’04 to ’07 and also worked with Ireland before the ’07 World Cup. The Scarlets are expected to add another specialist Skills Coach in the coming weeks. It’s a relatively young and inexperienced group of coaches, but in many ways it mirrors the state of the Scarlets’ playing squad for next season.

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Much has been made of the weakening of the Welsh regions, with many big name players leaving for foreign shores. That is a worry for the WRU, but in a Grand Slam year, Wales continue to produce young talent. Easterby has some exciting players to work with at the Scarlets. In Tavis Knoyle, Rhys Priestland, Scott Williams, Jonathan Davies, Liam Williams, George North and the returning Morgan Stoddart, they have a back-line that any team would be envious of. Up front, there may be some work to do in terms of recruitment.

Having lost three second-rows in Damian Welch, Lou Reed and Dominic Day, as well as marauding No.8 Ben Morgan, Easterby will have to find some grunt to supply his backs. The likes of Josh Turnbull, Aaron Shingler and captain Matthew Rees will have to step up more consistently. Still, the Scarlets could certainly do with one or two gritty forwards to complement their talented line-breakers. There’s immediate work for Easterby to get stuck into. Best of luck Simon, Irish fans will be watching with interest!

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Photos courtesy: Sum_of_Marc, Ken Bohane.

The Exiled Irish: Italia

Ex-Munster, Toulon and Newcastle prop Tim Ryan is now playing for Italian Super 10 side Cavalieri. (c) Daniela Pasquetti.

In the last Exiled Irish piece, I looked at several Ulster-bred players who are contracted in the Aviva Premiership. This time around, Italy is the location. There are three Irish professionals playing in the Italian Super 10 at the moment. It’s definitely a league that is well under the radar here in Ireland, and in the rest of Europe. Still, it’s a fantastic place to be playing rugby. The quality of the league is obviously at a lower level than our own PRO12, but that simply means further opportunities for Irish guys to make a career for themselves.

With it’s warm climate and incredible cuisine, Italy could certainly be a sweet consolation for players who haven’t quite been able to break through for the provinces, or looking for a new challenge later in their careers. Alongside an intelligent agent, the Italian Super 10 could also be used as a springboard to higher success. It’s definitely worth a thought, especially here in Ireland where our view of rugby can be very insular.

Here’s four Irish guys who recognised the opportunities available in the Italian Super 10:

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Tim Ryan

Ryan takes to the field for Cavalieri. (c) Daniela Pasquetti.

Tighthead prop Ryan was an Irish international at U18 and U19 level, although he played in the back-row at that stage. The chronic lack of tightheads in Ireland dictated that the Cork man was soon converted to the front-row. His strength and power made him an early success, with Munster signing him at the start of the ’05/06 season. However, opportunities were limited and over the next four seasons the Ryan made just 13 appearances off the bench. His only start came against the All Blacks as Munster almost pulled off a famous win in November 2008.

Ryan’s performance that day convinced Top 14 side Toulon to give him a chance for the ’09/10 season. The 120kg prop made 12 appearances over the course of the year before joining Premiership outfit Newcastle for the ’10/11 campaign. In England, Ryan made just 9 starts and he moved on at the start of this season to current club Cavalieri, based in Prato. The 27-year-old appears to have found his feet extremely well in Italy. He’s been first-choice at tighthead, playing 6 Amlin Cup games. Cavalieri head into their Super 10 play-off semi-final this Friday as favourites after topping the regular season table. Ryan has become a vital cog for the Italian side with his powerful ball-carrying and strength in the scrum.

Cavalieri Profile: Tim Ryan

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Dave Ryan

Dave (right) after being beaten by Tim's (left) Cavalieri side last month. (c) Daniela Pasquetti.

Dave is Tim’s younger brother and he’s also based in Italy, with Super 10 side Lazio. The younger Ryan plays mainly at loosehead prop. An Irish U19 international, Dave came through the Munster Academy to secure a full-time professional contract. However, similarly to his brother’s experience, the opportunities were limited to just 2 starts and 8 substitute appearances over the course of three seasons. With his time at Munster up, Dave moved to Lazio at the beginning of this season. He’s now enjoying regular professional rugby for the first time, starting all but 2 of Lazio’s Super 10 games this season.

Lazio finished their season 6th in the league after a very inconsistent campaign which saw just 6 wins in 18 games. Still, it’s only the Rome-based club’s second season in the Super 10 after winning promotion from the Serie A in ’09/10. They will continue to improve and so will 25-year-old Ryan. Italy has a strong reputation for scrummaging excellence, and that’s one of the areas where Ryan is going about proving himself. If he can build on this season’s efforts, he may well earn a move to a more prestigious level. He has plenty of time on his hands and plenty of talent.

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Eoghan Hickey

Hickey (10) after helping Petrarca to a win over Tim Ryan's Cavalieri. (c) Daniela Pasquetti.

Dublin-born Hickey is an ex-Ireland Schools, U21 and ‘A’ international, currently contracted to Super 10 side Petrarca Padova. He earned his first professional contract with Leinster back in ’05/06. Only three substitute appearances followed, so Hickey moved south to join Munster in ’06/07. Again, opportunities were limited (10 in total) so the outhalf/fullback took up an offer from Premiership side London Irish. Hickey had two enjoyable seasons with Irish, making 15 Premiership starts, as well as featuring in the Heineken Cup and Amlin Cup.

The ’09/10 season saw a move to Wasps, but again first-team rugby was hard to come by. Hickey made just 6 appearances before leaving the club at the end of the campaign. The outhalf returned to Ireland and played a season of Ulster Bank League rugby with Lansdowne. However, the stint at home didn’t last long and Hickey was off to Petrarca last summer. The 30-year-old has been integral for the Italians since, starting every game this season and kicking 182 points (3rd best in the league) as well as chipping in with a try. However, last year’s champions narrowly missed out on a play-off spot due to points difference. Still, with Aironi folding, and the possibility of a new Italian PRO12 side, this is a good time for Hickey to be impressing.

Petrarca Profile: Eoghan Hickey     Twitter: @eoghanhickey

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Bryan Young

Young in action for Cavalieri earlier this season. (c) Daniela Pasquetti.

The loosehead was a teammate of Tim Ryan’s at Cavaliero in the Super 10 this season. Young’s career began with Ulster in April 2002 when he came off the bench against Connacht in an Interprovincial clash. It took until ’05/06 to establish himself as undoubted first-choice at the province. His excellent form that season resulted in an international call-up and Young went on to earn 8 caps for Ireland. He was also a member of the 2007 Rugby World Cup squad. In 2009, he won a Churchill Cup with Ireland ‘A’ and also passed to 100 cap mark for Ulster.

Last season at Ulster, Young was still an important part of the squad, making 19 appearances. His technical scrummaging ability and the fact that he could cover at tighthead made him valuable enough to earn 132 caps in total. However, this season saw the Ballymena man take on a new challenge with Cavalieri. Unfortunately, injury restricted the 30-year-old to just 4 starts before Christmas. A front-row including himself and Ryan would have been a great sight. According to the Cavalieri website, Young’s serious back problem resulted in termination of his contract. A well-placed insider has reported that Young’s injury may mean his career is at an end. Despite the injury, hopefully he was able to enjoy the taste of a new culture.

Cavalieri Profile: Bryan Young     Twitter: @by_bear

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Photos courtesy: Daniela Pasquetti.