Stephen Ferris concerned by ‘lack of communication’ over Emerging Ireland tour

Stephen Ferris has questioned the value of the Emerging Ireland tour of South Africa

he former Ulster, Ireland and Lions flanker – who now works as an analyst with broadcaster Premier Sports – was surprised at the profile of players named by coach Simon Easterby on Wednesday and believes the decision to bring them to Bloemfontein for three games against the Griquas, the Pumas and the Cheetahs during the United Rugby Championship (URC) season has caused strife between the IRFU and the provinces.

Only four capped players will make the journey at the end of this month, with a host of prospects on board as Andy Farrell takes a look at the next layer of players available to him with a eye to next year’s World Cup.

But Ferris is sceptical.

“I watched Dan McFarland’s interview about it around the (pre-season) Exeter game when he said he didn’t know who was being taken, when they’d be back,” he said.

“There’s definitely a lack of communication between the provinces and either Andy Farrell or David Nucifora, whoever it is. Dan McFarland’s body language said enough to me, he wasn’t happy.

“I expected a lot of different faces there, I wasn’t expecting guys who don’t start for their provinces.

“Look at the squad, there’s Robert Baloucoune and maybe Ciarán Frawley who’d start quarter-final European games for their province. Is it Emerging Ireland or Emerging Academy?

“I expected to see the 30-40 ranked players in Andy Farrell’s mind getting a run, but I see Tom Clarkson, Michael Milne, Callum Reid – it’s further down the depth chart, but these are lads who would play in ‘A; games against each other.

“You could play those or maybe combined games, Leinster/Ulster v Connacht/Munster against each other and you’d get the same value out of it rather than drag them all away to South Africa and p***ing off head coaches, p***ing off CEOs just to see some of these young guys.

“If I was one of the players I’d be chomping at the bit to get away with new players, quality coaches and it’s an international window.

“But, for me I’d expected to see different names on the team-sheet.

“We were led to believe this squad would have an impact on the 2023 World Cup, but it’s probably not that.”

Ferris, meanwhile, believes that Leinster are the team to beat for the new season and said the addition of the URC has made the competition a much stronger entity.

“The South African players will be with the national team the next couple of weeks, then they’ll get a break and be strong towards the back end of the season,” he said.

“I don’t think they’ll get much rest between now and the World Cup, the Sharks will be better this season.

“The Stormers last year, people thought it was a flash in the pan and they played their best rugby in the semi and the final. I can’t see them doing it again.

“Leinster are 4/7 favourites or something to win it, I wouldn’t be betting against them.

“It’s between the South African sides and the Irish provinces.

“If Zebre v Dragons is on the TV and Worcester v Bath, you feel the Premiership is still a bit more competitive, but the URC is getting better.

“If the top 10 of the URC played the top 10 of the Premiership week in, week out they’d win more than they’d lose. It’d be competitive.

“I’ve English friends, they talk about the Gallagher Premiership being this, that and the other. I don’t see it. I think as a product it’s been taken over by the URC.

“And that’s because of the introduction of the South African teams.”

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