THE class of 2016 is serving Irish rugby well after Shane Daly became the seventh player from that U20 season to be capped at senior level, when introduced against Georgia at the Aviva Stadium.
Ireland reached the final of the World Cup in Manchester and from that squad Daly joined the likes of Jacob Stockdale, Andrew Porter, James Ryan, Hugo Keenan, Will Connors and Max Deegan to earn full international recognition.
Ireland lost to a powerful England side by 45-21 with Daly one of the try scorers, having defeated New Zealand 33-24 in qualifying and overwhelming Argentina 37-7 in the semi-final, when Daly scored another try.
Daly was also earmarked for a new Sevens programme instigated by the IRFU as another element in the pathway of fast-tracking players to full international status.
The 24-years-old utility back praised Ireland’s involvement with Sevens as another integral part of his development.
“I was in my first year in the Munster Academy, when I was asked to go for a trial,” he said.
“That was the year we got to the final of the 2016 U20 World Cup and a good few of us were introduced to it. Within a couple weeks we were thrown straight into it and began travelling the world playing in big tournaments.”
The season usually consists of 10 events with ranking points on offer depending on the final placings in each tournament, starting in the southern hemisphere.
South Africa, New Zealand and Australia are regular hosts before tournaments head north to the US, Canada, England and France with other stops along the way to Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Conditions are normally perfect for the format, hard grounds, sunshine and a dry ball all helping to contribute to a fantastic spectacle on top of providing a valuable learning centre for budding internationals in the 15-man game.
Daly made the squad for the 2017-18 season, when Ireland finished seventh in Paris and won the Challenge Cup by defeating Australia 24-14 in the final.
The following season featured the Olympic qualifying tournament in France, where Ireland finished third behind England and the host nation.
It left Ireland and the French in the final repechage tournament, scheduled for last summer, but was postponed because of Covid and will now be played in Monaco in June.
“It was a great opportunity to learn, focus on the core skills of the game and you’re learning everything at a faster rate, when playing Sevens instead of 15s,” said Daly.
“There are obviously less players on the pitch and you have to do more often, but it’s a class way to develop.
“Games are shorter and you can’t take a break for a second because you’re constantly involved, whereas in 15s there are times when you’re watching the game unfold.
“In training sessions then, you’re exposed to things like passing, break out and one-on-one tackling more often and because of that you learn quicker as a result.
“And if you’re an outside back in the regular game then all that becomes invaluable,” he added.
Switching from one format to the other, though, isn’t as straight forward as you might think.
“People don’t realise how different the two games are. Obviously, the skills are the same, but to transfer from one to the other isn’t as easy as it might seem.
“It’s actually quite difficult and it’s probably more beneficial going from the Sevens game.
“For example, when you’re playing in the back three I found myself a lot more comfortable in the open spaces.
“And I certainly am very grateful for what I learned in Sevens,” Daly added.
Including Sevens in player development is recognised as a big success, according to David Nucifora, the Union’s Performance Director.
“Six years ago when we set out on this journey we agreed to put the player at the heart of every decision,” he said.
“There has been tremendous work done from the very top level down right down to development staff who are working on the ground with young players on the elite player pathway.
“We are starting to see the fruits of this labour with young players coming through earlier and better prepared to thrive in the senior professional game.
“It is imperative for Irish rugby that we continue to invest in the player pathway as we increase competition within the system and ultimately drive performance on the playing field,” the Aussie native concluded.