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Speedster Smith and Ireland U20 ready to move through the gears against Wales

After scoring six tries on opening night, Ireland are keen to deliver a sustained threat through the 80 minutes.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

ON ALMOST ANY other night, when Jack Crowley wasn’t adding a brace of tries to delight the Cork crowd, we all would have devoted a lot more inches, air time and attention to Andrew Smith’s electric finish to a superb Ireland U20 try.

A schools rugby star with St Michael’s, Smith latched onto Sean O’Brien’s offload at the end of a fluid, right-to-left move and scorched into the corner to dot down the bonus-point try early in the second half.

“From my perspective, quite a quiet game,” says Smith. He takes try-scoring in his stride.

“But obviously the physicality, the tempo, it’s really high. You kind of enjoy that and enjoy playing behind such a good pack. They’re really good. When they play like that, it’s just a joy of a match.”

In contrast to team-mates like Lewis Finlay Smith was immersed in rugby from an early age, taking up minis with Bective before joining the St Michael’s pathway. He was soon joined by flanker Mark Hernan and the pair have progressed step-by-step to this international stage together.

A fertile rugby proving ground then, but family ties ensured Smith was not forced to specialise early. His mother’s side boast a rich Gaelic football heritage with father and son All-Stars, Liam and Kevin O’Neill, in his bloodlines.

“I played a good bit of Gaelic. I didn’t quite get into the hurling or anything,” Smith says, “I really enjoyed that so during the summer I played quite a good bit of Gaelic with Clanna Gael. I picked up a few skills from that which kind of helped as well.”

Smith hopes to put those skills to work in the centre at some point. He is capable of playing across the back-line, but the 19-year-old modestly suggests he’s not prepared for midfield at the international grade just yet.

The sole change in Noel McNamara’s back-line for tonight’s clash with Wales (kick-off 19.15, RTE 2) comes on the right wing with senior-capped Ulster wing Ethan McIlroy ruled out through injury and replaced by Ben Moxham. The centre slots have been firmly locked down by the imposing Hayden Hyde and Dan Kelly. Big men to set the tone for what is expected to be a feisty and physical Welsh approach.

“There’s no doubt they’ll bring a different challenge than Scotland,” says defence coach Kieran Campbell.

From watching them, there’ll be a level of physicality that’s quite new to our boys. It’s one we’ll have to meet fairly head on, early.”

Though the hosts in Musgrave Park broke out some irresistible rugby at crucial junctures against Scotland, there was a frustration lingering among players that they did not sustain a consistent threat throughout the 80. They expect Wales to come with a point to prove after losing at home to Italy and are intent to produce a steady display to overcome the challenge.

“We probably just need to keep the momentum (on) more consistently throughout the second half,” says Smith, who will be keen to add to  his impressive array of try-scoring.

andrew-smith Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“We came out at the start of the second half, really good start but we just need to keep that through the whole game.”

From the coaching perspective, the hope is that minimal changes – Marcus Hannan replaces Charlie Ward at loosehead in the second tweak – will allow the team to gel, strengthening the links in attack and defence to deliver a more fluid display.

“That’s the little bit of cohesion, you’ve a team that’s in their second game, you’d expect that,” adds Campbell, who is also director at Ulster’s academy.

“Now, this week with that cohesion built up and people are a bit more understanding of how each other play, we’ll be more ruthless in there and take opportunities when they’re presented.

“On the weekend, it was probably a bit frustrating for the boys. They didn’t always finish that territorial dominance. But it’s a nice thing to be talking about little issues at this point after a solid win and five points under your belt as opposed to huge under-performance and loss.

“It’s a nice place to be, keeps the complacency away.”

Ireland: 15 Oran McNulty, 14 Ben Moxham, 13 Dan Kelly, 12 Hayden Hyde, 11 Andrew Smith, 10 Jack Crowley, 9 Lewis Finlay, 1 Marcus Hanan, 2 Tom Stewart, 3 Thomas Clarkson, 4 Thomas Ahern, 5 Brian Deeny, 6 Sean O’Brien, 7 Mark Hernan, 8 David McCann (Capt)

Replacements: 16 John McKee, 17 Harry Noonan, 18 Charlie Ward, 19 Joe McCarthy, 20 Cian Prendergast, 21 Ben Murphy, 22 Tim Corkery, 23 Luis Faria

Wales: 15 Ioan Lloyd, 14 Daniel John, 13 Osian Knott, 12 Aneurin Owen, 11 Ewan Rosser, 10 Sam Costelow, 9 Dafydd Buckland, 1 Theo Bevacqua, 2 Will Griffiths, 3 Ben Warren, 4 Jac Price, 5 Ben Carter, 6 Ioan Davies, 7 Jac Morgan (Capt), 8 Morgan Strong

Replacements16 Dom Booth, 17 Callum Williams, 18 Archie Griffin, 19 James Fender, 20 Gwilym Bradley, 21 Ellis Bevan, 22 Bradley Roderick, 23 Josh Thomas

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Sean Farrell

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