Rising star Stuart Olding one of 11 Ulstermen to get Ireland call
Eleven Ulster players have been named in the 28-strong Ireland squad for next month's two-test trek to North America.
And six more northerners – each of them uncapped – will be travelling to Georgia as members of the Emerging Ireland party for the Tblisi Cup.
Stuart Olding is one of half-a-dozen uncapped youngsters making the cross-Atlantic trip with the seniors, the 20-year-old centre's inclusion confirming his rapid development this season.
Olding certainly will have plenty of familiar faces and voices around him; not only is Ulster hooker Rory Best captain of the US/Canada-bound party – Darren Cave, Tom Court, Declan Fitzpatrick, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Paddy Jackson, Paul Marshall, Andrew Trimble and Dan Tuohy will be there, too.
Best led Ireland in comparable circumstances in 2009. Then, too, he was left out of the British and Irish Lions party.
Trimble's recall is another huge boost to his morale following his drop down the pecking order in Declan Kidney's final season. The fact that stand-in coach Les Kiss – manning the fort until Joe Schmidt takes up the reins in July – has included the 49 times-capped winger means he is likely to complete his half-century.
In addition to Olding the other uncapped players in the senior squad are Connacht's scrum-half Kieran Marmion and full-back Robbie Henshaw, Munster pair Tommy O'Donnell (open-side flanker) and Mike Sherry (hooker) and Leinster tight-head Jamie Hagan.
The 26-man squad for the three-matches-in-14-days schedule in Georgia includes Ulster wing/centre Michael Allen, back row forward Robbie Diack, scrum-half Michael Heaney, hooker Rob Herring, tight-head prop Richard Lutton and lock Lewis Stevenson.
Leinster back rower Rhys Ruddock skippers Emerging Ireland.
Acting head coach Kiss said: "Both tours are hugely important in the context of providing valuable game exposure, building depth and gaining experience.
"For the North America tour we have selected a squad who I believe have the right mix of youth and experience and I'm really looking forward to working with them over the next few weeks.
Turning his attention east, Kiss said: "The Georgian tour will be a great experience for the players, most of whom have recently come through the underage system."