Saturday 20 January 2018

Blues' door open to Connacht trio

IT must have been a little like the Eurovision Song Contest in Connacht on Tuesday as contestants awaited their fate, to find out whether they had made Declan Kidney's extended Ireland squad for the November international series.

In recent times, the Irish haven't fared too profitably at the Eurovision and the same sad fate fell on Connacht contenders Ian Keatley, Fionn Carr and Jamie Hagan. Of course, these three progressive young men have more than their allegiance to the Western province in common as they prepare to welcome Leinster to The Sportsground in the Magners League on Saturday evening.

All three were taken into the Leinster Academy and developed there under the watchful eye of manager Colin McEntee before moving west. The journey from surplus to requirements at Leinster to a starring role at Connacht is becoming a well-worn path.

"The door is always open," said Leinster chief executive Mick Dawson. "Obviously, Joe Schmidt is the coach. If he believes they are good enough and he makes a recommendation, we will definitely try and get them back."


Age: 23 Honours: Ireland U18, Ireland U19, Ireland U20, Ireland 7s, Ireland A.

The former Belvedere College fly-half has taken time to find the consistency that is the hallmark of the professional game to go hand-in-hand with a natural touch of magic. Of course, a tendency for the unpredictable can frighten the life out of coaches. In the middle of last season, it was evident that the outgoing Connacht coach had handed over the reins to Elwood in all but name.

The former Ireland out-half wanted to expand Connacht's horizons with a game plan that refused to scream 'limitations and restrictions'. Elwood's pro-active attitude has rubbed off on Keatley. He started off with 25 points against Newport-Gwent Dragons on the first day of the Magners League, followed it with 18 against the Scarlets, 14 away to Glasgow Warriors and all the points in a 15-all draw at home to Ulster.


Age: 24 Honours: Ireland Schools, Ireland U19, Ireland U20, Ireland 7s, Ireland A.

The ex-Newbridge College wing has exploded into action on the back of Elwood's expansive, exciting regime, which has played to his greatest strength -- pace.

Flyer Carr scorched for a hat-trick of tries against the Scarlets in the Magners, one of them a pick up and sprint of 70m, and made it four in two with the match winner against Glasgow in week three.

There are elements of his game where he needs to tidy up. He has always been viewed as an out-and-out attacker, blitzing unprepared defences for Blackrock College two seasons ago in the All-Ireland League.


Age: 23 Honours: Irish Youths, Ireland U20.

The man from Balbriggan followed the road less travelled, also taken by Shane Horgan, from Youths rugby to The Academy and All-Ireland League rugby, initially at Greystones.

The worst kept secret in Irish rugby is the scant resources at tight-head. This 19-stone block of a man has shown the durability to start as the scrum cornerstone in four of the first five Magners League matches this season. He has begun to understand the effect he can have in the loose, carrying the hard yards for a gain of ground as his confidence to cope has increased with the game time he would have struggled for at Leinster.

The 23-year-old was absent from the shameful defeat to Italian minnows Cavalieri Estra before being recalled to face-down a no-nonsense Bayonne front row in the Amlin Challenge Cup last week.

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