Which Irish bolters could make their way on the plane to New Zealand?

In June 2012, in the small coastal town of Takapuna on the north coast of Auckland, Ireland held a team announcement press conference.

Head coach Declan Kidney has created a few selection surprises on the eve of the first Test against the All Blacks at Eden Park.

An injury to Mike Ross in training meant Ulster’s Declan Fitzpatrick would make his tight-headed prop debut.

Head coach Declan Kidney has created a few selection surprises on the eve of the first Test against the All Blacks at Eden Park. Photo: INPHO/Billy Stickland

A young Simon Zebo would also earn his first cap on the left wing – against Julian Savea. An injury to Paul O’Connell gave Dan Tuohy his second-row chance while a youngster Peter O’Mahony got a run on the blind flank.

Gordon D’Arcy’s absence through injury led to an experimental midfielder in Brian O’Driscoll and Keith Earls. Looking through the patched-up line-up and the sidelines, you sensed it was going to be a long tour for Kidney and Co.

The task ahead for this Ireland team over the next three weeks was a difficult one.

The hosts were world champions and waited in their city fortress. They had people like Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Dan Carter and Sonny Bill Williams in their ranks.

The hosts were world champions and waited in their city fortress. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Young players like Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith and giant Lomu-esque wing Savea were making a name for themselves.

The series ended 3-0 in favor of New Zealand. Game two in a sub-zero Christchurch will be remembered as the one that got away – a late Carter drop-goal sealing a 22-19 win.

That near-miss, however, ended in sobering losses to Auckland and Hamilton. Ireland were outscored 42-10 at Eden Park.

Two weeks later, a weary and exhausted squad dispatched 60 points unanswered at Waikato Stadium, a low point for the national side.

New Zealand All Blacks v Ireland: Ben Smith of the All Blacks scores a try. Photo: INPHO/Photosport/Simon Watts

The tour revealed underlying issues within the professional game in Ireland. Depth was the recurring theme. Kidney brought in a 30-man crew for the world’s most daunting tour.

A decade later, Irish boss Andy Farrell is looking to bring 42 players back to New Zealand. A pair of midweek matches against New Zealand Maori are also scheduled to take place in Hamilton and Wellington in weeks one and three of the tour.

It will be a grueling tour, but Farrell will arrive with a team far better equipped for the task at hand.

For one thing, this group won’t arrive with the same emotional baggage as the Class of 2012, thanks to three landmark wins (2016, 2018, and 2021) against the Men in Black. Now it’s about chasing that elusive victory on Kiwi soil.

Ireland take on New Zealand tour
This Irish group won’t arrive with the same emotional baggage as the Class of 2012, thanks to three landmark wins (2016, 2018 and 2021). Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Farrell has two goals ahead of this Southern Hemisphere hike in July; build depth and build trust.

A Test victory or, dare we dream, a series victory against New Zealand, would do wonders for a young team which is regularly preparing for the 2023 World Cup in France.

Then there’s the depth chart, which needs to be worked at the backing, lockout, and outside half. All the big hitters such as Tadhg Furlong, Caelan Doris, Johnny Sexton and Garry Ringrose will be on the trip.

For Farrell, digging up some rough diamonds will be another imperative.

Ireland take on New Zealand tour
For Farrell, unearthing a few diamonds in the rough, like Munster’s Josh Wycherley, will be another imperative. Photo: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Finding a few young front rowers would be hugely helpful to the national cause, especially with Munster veteran Dave Kilcoyne now ruled out of the tour.

His assistant Jeremy Loughman has received an Irish first call-up for Test duty during the Six Nations, but perhaps the Irish management will take a closer look at Josh Wycherley, who is finishing the season well.

Still just 22, the Bantry-born prop isn’t a giant, but he has the set-piece sense and handling skills that would fit well into that Irish system.

The Irish management are believed to be very attached to youngster Jack Boyle, who has recently been a standout performer for Ireland’s Grand Slam-winning U20s.

Ireland take on New Zealand tour
2022 Under-20 Six Nations Championship Round 5, Musgrave Park, Cork 20/3/2022. Ireland U20 v Scotland U20. Irishman Jack Boyle celebrates after the game with his friends. Photo: INPHO/Ben Brady

Boyle is currently in his first year with Leinster academy but is a potential bolter for the summer tour.

It is also possible to bring some young locks. James Ryan, who is nearing a return to action after his concussion against England in the Six Nations, and Tadhg Beirne, who is recovering from a thigh injury, are both currently out of action .

Iain Henderson remains the only in-form frontline second line at present. The picture may be clearer in a few months, but Farrell needs to see growth in this area.

Ultan Dillane is heading to France but there’s no shortage of Connacht locks with international aspirations, including Gavin Thornbury, who recently recovered from a lengthy shoulder injury, and Niall Murray.

Connacht’s Gavin Thornbury. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Ryan Baird, who just returned to full training with Leinster this week, hasn’t quite reached the heights he looked set to reach easily.

Baird’s Leinster teammate Joe McCarthy, a big unit who has already been invited to the Ireland camp, is looking to have the right equipment and the 20-year-old could be a left-field choice for the tour.

Munster’s Thomas Ahern is still finding his feet at this level, but the Waterford-born lock could thrive on a tour such as this.

A month at the Ireland camp and mixing it up with grizzled Kiwi second rowers could do wonders for his development.

Ireland take on New Zealand tour
Munster’s Thomas Ahern is still finding his feet at this level, but the Waterford-born lock could thrive on a tour such as this. Photo: INPHO/Ben Brady

Harry Byrne and Ben Healy could be young choices to support Sexton and Joey Carbery in the away department, while Ciaran Frawley deserves a place on the plane as a midfield option.

Leinster winger Jimmy O’Brien looks like the next taxi in the row for a selection in the back three.

Ireland are going to need all the reinforcements they can get. There is no more difficult mission than this.