THE IRELAND WOLFHOUNDS team is a strange concept. Blended together in a short space of time, there is just a single game before they are disbanded to take their diverging roads.
Some members of the side may have no further involvement in the Six Nations camps after this weekend, while others could go on to be decisive influences for the senior Ireland side. Some will be brought in as shadow opposition in between games, while others may score match-winning tries.
For now, all 23 men in the squad to play the England Saxons on Saturday [KO 5.00pm] are focused on demonstrating that they can make the step up. Despite the Six Nations focus, Wolfhounds head coach Anthony Foley explains that Joe Schmidt was not the only man calling the selection shots for this clash.
No; myself, Doakie [assistant coach Neil Doak], John Plumtree and Kissy [Les Kiss], we all sat down with Joe and formulated a team. Obviously Joe’s trying to put a squad together with depth in it for the Six Nations campaign.
“You can see that in the team that’s been named here today. There is a focus in mind about building a depth within the squad and giving fellas an opportunity to put their hands up.”
One of those men is out-half Ian Madigan, who has fallen behind the solidity of New Zealander Jimmy Gopperth in the battle for the number 10 shirt at Leinster this season. Foley is hopeful that the 24-year-old can demonstrate an ability to manage Saturday’s game.
“You’d be looking for control. You’d be looking for Ian to play his own game, bring his talents to the game. I think if he can do that, that’ll put us in good stead for the game. When you play in Kingsholm and you play away from home, you don’t want to have a lot of pressure on yourself.
Madigan is already a senior Ireland international. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland.
“So it’ll be interesting to see how Ian goes; he hasn’t been getting a lot of game time in recent times. Hopefully he can park that to one side and put in a good performance.”
Cardiff Blues No. 8 Robin Copeland is another player of great interest, particularly for Munster fans, this weekend. His move to the southern province from the Cardiff Blues may put him in line for more regular Ireland involvements next season. Foley admits that he has studied the Wexford native’s abilities in detail and is excited as a result.
“Robin has been showing up very well at the highest level in club land, which is the Heineken Cup. With his performances, I’m just really looking forward to seeing him with the ball in his hands and seeing what he can do. He’s an exciting player.
When you’re recruiting a player, you do tend to look over the footage and pick out his strengths and weaknesses and see what you can do with him. Robin obviously in recent times has more strengths than weaknesses and has shown up very well.”
Foley says that the entire Ireland set-up is delighted to have Richardt Strauss back in the mix after his rapid recovery from a heart procedure only three months ago, given that the 27-year-old is “a quality lad and a quality player.” Meanwhile, the existing relationship between starting hooker Rob Herring and lock Dan Tuohy is seen as a big advantage at line-out time.
With such competition out wide in the Ireland squad, Foley is expecting important contributions from Fergus McFadden and Craig Gilroy, while Iain Henderson has been asked to “go back to his roots in the second row.” Still just 21, Foley feels that the Ulster man’s “ball carrying and his size” make him an exciting prospect at international level.
After an excellent week of training at the international squad’s Carton House base, the Wolfhounds coach underlines that his side now need to back it up with a performance. Six Nations places are still up for grabs, but Foley says a team display is the underlying focus.
“Our priority is Saturday. We’ve had three good days up here, running our own stuff, running against the boys and being really competitive. Tomorrow we take off and arrive over in Gloucester. Our main focus will be five o’clock on Saturday, making sure we get a performance.”