Alex Kendellen shone for Ireland U20s. Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
Rising Star

'Alex Kendellen is an incredible player - his will to win is second to none'

Irish Under 20 captain, Alex Kendellen, excelled on Saturday as Ireland began their Six Nations campaign with a big win over Scotland.

DESPITE WINNING THEIR opening game of this year’s Six Nations championship by a significant 31-point margin, the overriding emotion coming out of the Ireland camp on Saturday was relief.

Not so much at securing the win, more that they have got a chance to play again after a torrid year of inactivity. On top of that, there is also the realism that Saturday’s 38-7 victory owed much to Scotland’s reduction to 14 players for the concluding 38 minutes of the match.

“A red card always has an impact on the game,” noted the Ireland Under 20s coach, Richie Murphy. “Firstly, player safety has to be paramount and the referee got that decision right (to send off Scotland flanker Harri Morris). When that happened, we managed to play to the space a little better than we did in the first half. So, it just gave us a little more opportunity and belief that we could execute under pressure. I was really happy with how that went in the second half.”

Plenty of other things pleased him. The win, for starters; the effort levels secondly, and that is before we mention the set-piece or their defensive resilience. “We were pleased with the performance in what has been a very strange time, because the players just have not been able to play enough rugby,” said Murphy. “To go from where they have been (with regards to their inactivity) to international rugby is very difficult but I thought the lads (made that transition) really well.

“The way we passed the ball was good, but we will be working on trying to get the ball into space a little bit earlier.

“The nice thing is I am working with a diligent bunch of players that want to get better and better. I could not ask much more of them. Coming out of this game, we have so much to work on which is great. The lads are hungry to get going again against Wales this Friday.”

Desire was evident in the performance of his captain, Alex Kendellen, who seems a sure bet to become a leading player with Munster and Ireland in years to come. Others also impressed including Jamie Osborne, the Leinster full-back; Cathal Forde and Shane Jennings, the Connacht centres; Alex Soroka, the Leinster flanker, and all four props, including try-scorer, Sam Illo.

“Getting the chance to play for Ireland, pulling on that shirt, I’m really proud of that,” said Illo afterwards. “Only a few get the chance. It’s something I’ve been hoping to do for a long time.”

sam-illo-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try Illo had a brilliant game for Ireland on Saturday. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

After Saturday’s performance, he’ll not have to wait too long before he does so again. Kendellen, meanwhile, looks set to be the shining light of this Irish squad.

“He is an incredible young player,” said Murphy. “There are loads of things in Alex’s game that he needs to improve, and we chat to him on a regular basis about that. But his athleticism, his will to win, is second to none. As a captain, he leads very much by example, he is not a screamer or a shouter. He communicates with the lads in a calm manner – because they are under pressure they have never really been under before, playing international rugby at Under 20s, live on TV. It was a big step for him and he has done that very well.”

Wales on Friday is the next step. This team and this tournament is only just warming up.

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