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'It’s a learning experience and the challenge now is to get things right this week'

It’s a big week for the Ireland U20s as they look to get their Six Nations campaign back on track.

Despite a spirited second-half comeback, Ireland fell short in Bordeaux.
Despite a spirited second-half comeback, Ireland fell short in Bordeaux.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

A FIRST-HALF PERFORMANCE pockmarked by nerves was in some ways understandable, but Noel McNamara hopes his players can use the experience to now settle into their Six Nations campaign.

Despite a spirited comeback after the interval, Ireland U20s opened their championship with a 34-24 defeat to France last weekend but will hope to get back on track when they host Italy at Donnybrook on Friday night [7.15pm, RTÉ2].

McNamara’s young charges more than played their part in a thrilling contest in Bordeaux and the head coach wants his side to use their second-half performance as the benchmark for the rest of the tournament.

“There was an element of it being their first game,” he admitted, referring to the nerves which led to an error-strewn display from the visitors in the opening 40.

“You try and prepare as best you can but the reality is that nothing prepares them for that until they actually experience it.

“Ultimately they responded and that was always going to happen so I wouldn’t read too much into what happened at half-time, but they certainly demonstrated a lot of character in that second half.

“We probably feel that we were desperately unlucky not to get something out of the game and we probably feel as if we could have won it. I would never say I was disappointed with the lads but collectively we feel we could have done better in that 40 minutes. That’s the bottom line.”

Noel McNamara McNamara pictured at the team hotel yesterday. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The squad returned to work at Donnybrook on Monday ahead of the visit of the Azzurri, with McNamara reporting a relatively clean bill of health after what was an energy-sapping and physical first outing.

Ulster flanker Aaron Hall was replaced at half-time due to a shoulder knock, and missed training yesterday to attend the funeral of his grandmother, who passed away whilst the team were in France.

“He demonstrated a huge strength of character,” McNamara said, before adding highly-rated centre James Hume has joined the squad after recovering from a leg fracture.

“France was a learning experience and the challenge now is to get the things right this week that we didn’t last week.

“It’s great to have that opportunity this week because you don’t get it in a one-off match. We have it now in this championship. We certainly feel we’re still in a good place this week.”

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