Two Irish Players Joe Schmidt Will Definitely Be Keeping Close Tabs On This Season
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The newly restructured Guinness PRO14 is officially underway. The addition of two South African franchises was expected to inject some much needed sparkle into the competition, and while it’s still early days, it appears as though we’re in for more of the same…
As expected the two South African franchises have struggled to adjust to their new surroundings, while normal service has resumed with the Italians, Cardiff, Dragons and Edinburgh once again looking set to prop up the heavyweights. Munster and Leinster have gotten off to flying starts, while Connacht and Ulster look like much better outfits this season.
With this mind, there are two players in the competition I reckon Joe Schmidt will be keeping close tabs on as the season progresses.
Ulster – Jacob Stockdale
Most of the talk up north has revolved around the addition of Christian Lealifano and the reinvention of Tommy Bowe as a centre. But truth be told neither are likely to be real success stories. The loss of Paddy Jackson is both unfortunate and underestimated, while one would imagine that Tommy Bowe likely will not reach the heights fans are anticipating at outside centre. While still king of picking a good line, he possesses neither the footwork nor handling ability to make it as a high-level outside centre.
Someone Ulster fans should be excited about this season is promising young star Jacob Stockdale, whose stock is constantly rising (I totally meant that pun). He has pace to burn and a stocky figure (this is getting ridiculous) that fits the bill for a Joe Schmidt style fullback.
No doubt Schmidt will be keeping close tabs after experiencing what he’s capable of first-hand, grabbing a try on debut against the USA during the summer.
Munster – Darren Sweetnam
You’d be forgiven for expecting to see the name of Alex Wootton here this week given his four-try man of the match display at the weekend.
The Garryowen speedster looks to be in scintillating form already this season, but it’s very early days for him just yet. His four scores were well finished and his chip and chase in particular was impressive in the second half, showing composure when he gathered to stay on his feet and look for the offload.
It was his first score which caught my eye the most though, specifically the killer pass from Darren Sweetnam to put his teammate away in the corner. Sweetnam later showed impressive distribution once again, for Wootton’s fourth with a sumptuous cut-out pass.
A product of the Munster Academy, last year under the watchful eye of S&C coach Joe McGinley, Sweets looks primed and ready for an Ireland call-up this season. Strong and quick on his feet, with deft aerial skills fit for Croke Park, the former Cork hurler must be in Joe Schmidt’s plans this coming season.