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'They have old heads on their shoulders': No fear of Ireland's new breed being overawed in Twickenham

Ireland’s record in London since 2010 could even make a lack of experience an advantage.

Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

A CONSTANT THREAD running through this Six Nations has been the apparent ease with which Ireland have been able to add youth into the white hot heat of Championship action.

From relative veterans like Garry Ringrose, on the verge of his 13th cap, to much newer products like the prolific Jacob Stockdale (age 21, 8 caps), Dan Leavy (23, 8 caps) Andrew Porter (22, 6 caps) and of course the immensely impressive James Ryan (21, 7 caps) this is a squad which could all too easily be divided into ‘grizzled’ and ‘fresh-faced’ factions.

Experience, of course, is an invaluable trait in a sportsman, especially when it comes to extremely tense cup-final situations like the one that awaits Ireland in Twickenham.

However, Irish muscle memory in the venue and England’s win-rate there might just make this an ideal place for a youthful crop to come and play unburdened by history.

Because the historical factors are weighty indeed.

James Ryan with Grant Gilchrist after the game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Eddie Jones has yet to lose a Test on home turf having taken over well after England’s fate-sealing loss to Australia during the pool stage of the 2015 World Cup.

The last time the red rose had its Twickers petals plucked in the Six Nations was 15 Championship matches ago in 2012, when Wales kept the hosts try-less on their way to a Grand Slam – perhaps that bodes well.

Ireland are certainly due a victory in TW2, of the current squad only Keith Earls, Johnny Sexton, Cian Healy, Rory Best and Sean Cronin were present in 2010 when Tommy Bowe’s late set-piece finish delivered a 16 – 20 win.

Keith Earls celebrates his try Keith Earls scored one of Ireland's three tries when Ireland last defeated England away from home. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It’s possible that Jordan Larmour could find himself set on a similar strike play this weekend; he was 12 years old when Bowe celebrated victory before dotting the ball down.

On top of not experiencing the painful trips to London since, the crop of young stars in Schmidt’s ranks are very much the new-and-improved academy product of the modern era, damn near ready for Test level – never mind the professional ranks – by the time they left school.

“I think all the young guys just take everything in their stride,” says skills coach Richie Murphy, who hints the greatest challenge is putting the reins on to counter-balance the natural exuberance of youth.

New breed

“They’re so hungry, it’s definitely a bit of a new breed that’s coming through. Their work-rate is massive, sometimes it’s too big and they need to think sometimes before they go and do things. Everyone’s getting lots of feedback and, week-to-week we can see lots of improvements in those young guys.”

In the case of James Ryan, the level of performance has been particularly impressive considering the hamstring injury which kept him sidelined last season means he has played a grand total of 17 professional matches.

His breakthrough year has been impressive, but not surprising, says Devin Toner:

“Not really to be honest, no. We see them behind the scenes and the talents they have and everything they put in.

“I’m delighted for him that he’s going so good, and that he’s in the same squad as me and helping the team do as well as we can.”

There are a couple of young lads, but they have old heads on their shoulders.

“James and Ports have taken things in their stride. They are relatively inexperienced, but they have shown how well they can take the pressure.

“James’ first (Champions) Cup match was when (Scott) Fardy pulled out and he had a stormer of a game against Montpellier.

“Different situation in Twickenham, but I think they will be fine.”

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Sean Farrell

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