IRISH U-20s backs coach and Munster elite player development officer, Greig Oliver believes the All-Ireland League continues to make a crucial contribution to the development of the country’s top young rugby stars.
From Scottish rugby international Oliver, who worked as Garryowen FCs technical director in the past, played a key role in the Irish U-20s highest ever finish of fifth at the recent Junior World Championships in South Africa.
Four Munster players featured on the successful Irish U20s side in South Africa, UL-Bohemian out-half/centre JJ Hanrahan, the Garryowen duo of James Rael and Shane Buckley and Dolphin hooker, Niall Scannell.
Ireland’s success in beating eventual winners South Africa in the pool stages and reigning Six Nations champions England and a fancied French side in the fifth to eighth-placed play-offs, has started a clamour for the provinces to give more younger players a chance to showcase their talents in the RaboDirect PRO12.
Former international scrum-half Oliver believes coaches need to get the blend right between the number of young and experienced players who are included in their line-up.
Oliver met with in-coming Munster coach Rob Penney while in South Africa as he was head coach to the New Zealand side which reached the final.
“It’s about getting the blend right. There is no good throwing five or six young players in at the same time,” Greig Oliver said.
“If you can get a real blend and mix in your squad, you can introduce young players alongside your experienced players who can help them. That is what you are looking for, a balance.
“I met Rob Penney in South Africa. He would be an advocate of that. I am sure he will have been impressed with the guys who played in the Junior World Championship. He saw them at first hand. They did themselves no harm.
“He comes across really well. He was very approachable, amenable. His characteristics will blend in well with Munster.
“It is a great challenge for Munster, for the schools, clubs, whatever to keep producing players (for the Irish U-20s team). I think in a way it is a good message to send out. You want to work harder, to be better at what we do. We have world class systems in certain aspects of the game and the challenge is to spread that wider.
“All the players who played for us in the World Cup played consistently in the AIL this year. That stood them in good said.
“Some people tend not to put much emphasis on the AIL. Physically, it is a very good league. If we push the AIL, it will help us.
“From a schools point of view, they are getting better at what they do. We are working hard to stop the trend of what has happened over past few years. Hopefully, we are on the right track.”
After finishing his role as Garryowen’s technical director at the end of the 2010-2011 season, Oliver spent brief spells working with Scotland’s scrum halves prior to last autumn’s World Cup and assisting ex-Scottish coach Richie Dickson who was employed by the IRB as a technical advisor in Georgia. However, the IRFU soon made him an offer to become an elite player development officer with Munster.