THE IRFU’S IQ Rugby programme, which was launched to identify and develop Irish-qualified talent overseas, is behind the inclusion of promising Saracens centre Oli Morris in Ireland’s squad for the upcoming U20 Six Nations.
Morris, who qualifies to represent Ireland through his Irish grandmother, was yesterday named in Noel McNamara’s 40-player squad for the 2019 championship.
Morris played for a Leinster development side before Christmas. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
Having previously represented England at underage level, Morris — whose older brother, Dom, is also in the Saracens academy — impressed McNamara and Irish management during two challenges matches last month.
Morris played for a Leinster development outfit against Ireland U20s at Donnybrook before Christmas, and was then asked to line out for Munster in a second warm-up game against McNamara’s side in December.
The versatile back, who can also play on the wing, featured for Saracens during their Anglo-Welsh Cup campaign last season, and is one of four IQ Rugby players in the Ireland U20 squad alongside Aaron O’Sullivan, who joined Leinster from Wasps in June, James McCarthy and Iwan Hughes.
“Oli has played underage for England but has been in contact with the IQ programme over there,” McNamara explained.
“Early in the year, he expressed an interest in being involved with us. He didn’t come in initially but came across and played in that game with Leinster. He did quite well in a challenging environment, having come in at short notice.
“I spoke to him afterwards and asked him to come back the next week and play for Munster and did so again. I had a good meeting with him there and he’s a guy who can add value too. He’s obviously coming from Saracens, a good club and good culture.
“I’m looking forward to getting him into camp next week and getting him involved in the team.”
McNamara is unsure if Morris will be staying at Saracens, or whether he’ll now look to play his rugby for one of the provinces.
“I’m not sure, obviously, that’s something that IQ rugby would look after,” he added.
“I’m not sure what the answer is to that question right now. There are a couple of guys from the IQ programme who have come across and moved to provinces. He’s not one of them, but he’s certainly keenly committed to playing for Ireland.”
Morris will link up with the Ireland squad at Fota Island in Cork next week as preparations for the Six Nations opener against England on Friday 1 February intensify.
McNamara has named an exciting panel with Scott Penny and Angus Kernohan, both of whom have played senior rugby for Leinster and Ulster respectively this season, included.
Leinster centre David Hawkshaw, a two-time Senior Schools Cup winner with Belvedere College, will captain the side, with second row Charlie Ryan and Munster scrum-half Craig Casey named as part of a wider leadership group as vice-captains.
Previously, the players have selected their captain but at the squad announcement in Dublin yesterday, McNamara explained the coaching staff adopted a different approach this year.
“One of the things I considered doing was having a leadership group where the captain came from a different place each week,” the head coach said.
Hawkshaw captains the team. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
“We need a more robust leadership system within the team. That is what we have gone with. We have got a leadership group of six. I just don’t think right now that placing all that onus on the players to elect one person was the right decision.
“When the players cross the line on the Friday night we are expecting them to make all of the decisions, but you can’t put it all on one person. That is something I would have experienced last year, a lot of pressure ended up with one person.
“I don’t know want to do that. That is a little bit of the thinking behind it. There is more people, we have built more of a structure now and certainly we feel that David should be really well supported within that structure.”