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Guinness PRO12 ones to watch: Ireland and Scotland’s uncapped stars

Guinness PRO12 Rugby Editor

25 Jan 2017

When Scotland and Ireland meet at BT Murrayfield on February 4 as the RBS 6 Nations gets underway, some of the Guinness PRO12’s finest young talent will be on display.

Of Vern Cotter’s 37-man squad, 28 play for Glasgow Warriors or Edinburgh in the Guinness PRO12 and with both flying in the European Rugby Champions Cup and Challenge Cup respectively, confidence is high.

Joe Schmidt’s squad is made up entirely of Guinness PRO12 players, with Champions Cup quarter-finalists and league challengers Leinster and Munster providing 15 and 13 each.

Though Jack Conan, Billy Holland and John Ryan all have just the one cap, Munster also see three new faces added to the squad.
Scotland have added two uncapped players to their squad in Simon Berghan and Cornell du Preez. Here we assess who could feature and which uncapped star could shine for their country come February 4.

Munster Men:

Andrew Conway is a rare breed in Irish rugby, a player who crossed the divide from Leinster to Munster.

The 25-year-old played over 40 games for Leinster in all competitions from 2010 until 2013, but since then he has been in the red of Munster and this season has come into his own alongside Simon Zebo and Keith Earls.

Conway has been picked in one of Ireland’s most competitive positions, with Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble, Craig Gilroy, Zebo and Earls all vying for spots out wide.

What Conway has shown though, is an ability to deliver on the big stage with Munster and – like everyone in Rassie Erasmus’ side this year – has got used to winning well.

He has four tries in all appearances this year, but it is the score against Glasgow Warriors in a one-point game at Scotstoun that perhaps signals his Test match credentials.

Of all the potential Guinness PRO12 debutants in this squad, Niall and Rory Scannell are arguably the most likely to feature at Murrayfield.

Now 24, Niall Scannell previously featured for Ireland Under-20s in the Six Nations, and could be in line for a first cap against the Scots.

Munster’s pack has been near on irresistible at times this year, with Scannell at the heart of a supreme set piece.
While he has battled for his position in recent years, Mike Sherry, Duncan Casey and Kevin O’Byrne have all had to settle for second-best to the rampaging Scannell this year.

Though captain Rory Best is a shoo-in to start at hooker for Ireland, with Sean Cronin out injured, Scannell and Leinster’s one-cap hooker James Tracy are set to battle for a spot among the replacements.

Though brother Rory is not a specialist No. 10, his versatility could bring him in line for a debut against the Scots.
Scannell’s composure and class on the ball has been clear to see this season, with the centre kicking a crucial drop-goal to down Ulster 16-15 at the Kingspan back in December.

With Jonathan Sexton a potential absentee due to a calf problem and Ulster’s Paddy Jackson the only other recognised outside-half in the squad, versatile Scannell could get his chance sooner rather than later for Schmidt’s side.

Edinburgh enforcements:

Simon Berghan has had to bide his time for club and country, the New Zealand-born prop having played second-fiddle to WP Nel during his time at Edinburgh.

But Nel’s persistent neck problems handed Berghan the chance to shine and the 26-year-old has done so spectacularly.
The big Kiwi – who qualifies through his Scottish grandfather – has been central to Edinburgh’s exceptional European form this year.

Having never made a never made a Guinness PRO12 start before this season, it has been a sharp rise to prominence for the prop, but with a turn of pace to add in with ever more solidity in the scrum, he adds a valuable option to Vern Cotter’s arsenal.

Glasgow’s Zander Fagerson is likely the man to start for Cotter having been superb in the autumn, but Berghan could force his way onto the bench.

Cornell du Preez has long been talked about in a Scotland shirt, such has been his impact since joining Edinburgh in 2013.
The former South African Under-20 international is a powerful ball carrier with the ability to squeeze offloads out of tight spaces.

With John Barclay, John Hardie, Rob Harley, Josh Strauss, Hamish Watson and Ryan Wilson, Du Preez is competing for a spot in Scotland’s strongest back-row for years.

Watson was a revelation on his first real run in the Scotland No. 7 jersey, Wilson has been exceptional for Glasgow Warriors and Barclay’s return to form for Scotland in November was pivotal in their success.

Du Preez comes in for youngster Magnus Bradbury on the basis that he is hard-nosed and consistent during big games and if Cotter wants a man to front up against Ireland’s world-class back-row, perhaps Du Preez is his man.

Guinness PRO12 Final 2017, 27th May, Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Ticket Information: Fans can still avail of an exclusive number of €30 tickets. Book via www.ticketmaster.ie. Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final