Assistant coach Mike Catt has urged Ireland’s raft of rookie players to prove they are capable of remaining at international level ahead of the season finale against the United States.
The Irish have 12 players pushing for Test debuts in Saturday evening’s game in Dublin, while a further 11 members of their experimental 35-man group have 10 caps or fewer.
Head coach Andy Farrell, who has seven men away with the British and Irish Lions and has rested a handful of other experienced regulars, looks set to rotate his squad after selecting arguably his strongest available side for last weekend’s entertaining win over Japan.
Former England international Catt wants the team to take momentum into the summer break and has challenged the newcomers to ensure they are still in contention come the autumn fixtures.
“It’s making sure that we don’t take a backwards step going into this last game of the season for some of the players,” he said.
“Make sure we keep building and make sure that we keep getting the players to understand what international rugby is about, especially the new faces, and let them get a real taste of what it takes to get here but also stay here, that’s one of the crucial things, the lessons that are learnt.
“From a coaching point of view, it’s fantastic to see so many new faces and guys that have deserved a shot throughout the season because they’ve played consistently.
“It’s not just the step between provincial and international, it’s about the way we want to play or the way we believe international rugby should be played and players have had to adapt.
“They have to seriously think about what they need to do to make sure they maintain the ability to stay in this squad.”
Munster forward Gavin Coombes was the sole debutant in the 39-31 victory over the Japanese, coming on for the final 10 minutes.
Coach Farrell must make at least three changes to his starting XV as try-scorer Chris Farrell and Jordan Larmour suffered injuries, while flanker Peter O’Mahony has departed camp to begin his off season.
Robert Baloucoune, Caolin Blade, Harry Byrne, Tom Daly, James Hume, Michael Lowry, Paul Boyle, Peter Dooley, Ross Molony, Tom O’Toole, Nick Timoney and Fineen Wycherley make up the substantial uncapped contingent.
“Every single player that has come in has been very diligent, they’ve studied really well but also the connection amongst the players has been brilliant, so many young guys are helping each other and it’s been great,” said Catt.
“There were glimpses of that on the weekend against Japan, there’s some good stuff that we played, so let’s make sure we are moving forward as a squad.”
Saturday afternoon’s five-try success over the Brave Blossoms was notable for the return of fans to the Aviva Stadium for the first time since February 2020, as well as the international comeback of Joey Carbery.
Munster fly-half Carbery, who had not represented his country since the 2019 World Cup due to ankle and wrist injuries, marked the occasion by scoring 14 points with his boot.
Catt was impressed with the 25-year-old’s contribution but accepts it will take time for him to rediscover top form in an Irish jersey.
“It’s the first time I have worked with Joey; for 18 months he’s been sitting there twiddling his thumbs and not getting an opportunity,” said Catt.
“He’s eased his way back in – like a few players that haven’t played internationally for a while, it does take a little bit of time.
“I thought him and (scrum-half) Jamison Gibson-Park performed well, controlled the game quite nicely.
“It’s just the start of Joey’s recovery really in terms of where he’s at. We know what he’s capable of doing, it’s just how quickly we can get him up to that speed to really go and impress.”