'Today's Irish Under 20s would be the equivalent of us when we were 25, 26'

Denis Leamy has been blown away by the standard of professionalism in Ireland’s Under 20s side.

Ireland's Under 20s have impressed Denis Leamy.
Ireland's Under 20s have impressed Denis Leamy.
Image: Robbie Stephenson/INPHO

THE NUMBER 8 has reached his comfortable middle years; his face bearing the interesting scars of some memorable battles.

Fifty-seven of those were in an Ireland shirt, another 144 for Munster, evidence of his strong character. Certainly he left a big impression on Brian O’Driscoll who placed him in the same category as Paul O’Connell and Sean O’Brien, using the word ‘dog’ to describe his willingness to scrap for every ball.

For a forward, it was the ultimate compliment but for O’Driscoll, it was a concern that players like O’Brien, O’Connell and Denis Leamy were no longer being produced, forwards who were prepared to be ‘nasty and physically imposing’.

Dogs of war.

These days Leamy is an assistant coach with Ireland’s Under 20s, an older dog teaching new tricks to a litter of pups. But can toughness be taught or is it just something that’s either in a player or not?

“I understand the phrase,” said Leamy of O’Driscoll’s comment, “although the game has moved on an awful lot since I played it. The mindset probably needs to be the same. You have to channel the energy and the dig in different ways so that you are clean and very good technically in terms of what you are trying to do in the tackle.

denis-leamy Leamy (middle) with Ireland's Under 20s. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“You can still bring that bounce and that desire to do well but you have to be so accurate in your tackles and your shots. If you get something wrong in your timing the consequences are huge so while we do encourage players to bring that little bit of edge and bit of dog, it is all channelled in a really correct and technical manner.”

Certainly that was evident last Saturday in the 38-7 victory over Scotland, the opening game of Ireland’s Under 20s Six Nations campaign. Tonight they’re out again (kick off 8pm, live RTÉ2) against Wales with Leamy believing there is a ‘lot more growth’ within his young team.

“The thing that has really struck me about this generation is how the academies are doing a great job in educating the players,” he said. “These players are very smart; they see things; they create things; they react really quickly. Compared to where we were coming from, when we were the same age, this generation are better conditioned; they have got nutritionists, psychologists so they are in much better places than we would have been.

“The guys now at Under 20s level would be the equivalent to what we were when we were 25, 26. They are just so well developed and they carry themselves so well. They are so professional.”

denis-leamy Dog days are over: Leamy's final year as a player. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

That’s a big statement to make. Then again, the Under 20s have been making big statements over the last five years, reaching a World Cup final at this age range in 2016; winning a grand slam in the 2019 Six Nations and a Triple Crown in last year’s tournament before the tournament was aborted once lockdown arrived.

Currently on a nine-game winning streak in this competition, Ireland’s reaction to last week’s comprehensive victory over Scotland was to make six changes. “It’s about being sensible, it’s about protecting players,” said Leamy, who is conscious of the tight schedule Ireland are on, fitting five games into a 24-day itinerary. “You have to remember that because of lockdown guys hadn’t played in 18 months. So we are asking a lot for them to go three or four games in a row. As well as that, we believe in our squad.”

Wales, 25-8 winners over a well-regarded Italian side last Saturday, will test that faith this evening. If Ireland win this, though, then momentum as well as an old dog will be on their side.

Ireland U20s v Wales

15. Jamie Osborne (Naas CBS / Naas RFC / Leinster)
14. Ben Moxham (Larne High School / Ballymena RFC / Ulster)
13. Shane Jennings (Garbally College / Buccaneers RFC / Connacht)
12. Cathal Forde (Colaiste Iognaid / Corinthians RFC / Connacht)
11. Chris Cosgrave (St Michael’s College / UCD RFC / Leinster)
10. Tim Corkery (St Kieran’s College, Kilkenny / UCD RFC / Leinster)
9. Nathan Doak (Wallace High School / Banbridge RFC / Ulster)

1. Jack Boyle (St Michael’s College / UCD RFC / Leinster)
2. Ronan Loughnane (Cistercian College Roscrea / UCD RFC / Leinster)
3. Mark Donnelly (CBC Cork / Garryowen RFC / Munster)
4. Alex Soroka (Belvedere College / Clontarf RFC / Leinster)
5. Harry Sheridan (Sullivan Upper School / Dublin University FC / Ulster)
6. Donnacha Byrne (Summerhill College / Sligo RFC / Connacht)
7. Oisin McCormack (Garbally College / Buccaneers RFC / Connacht)
8. Alex Kendellen, capt. (PBC Cork / UCC RFC / Munster)

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16. Eoin de Buitléar (Scoil Chuimsitheach Chiáran / An Ghaeltacht / Corinthians RFC / Connacht)
17. George Saunderson (Sullivan Upper School / Queen’s University Belfast RFC / Ulster)
18. Sam Illo (Wesley College / Old Wesley RFC / Leinster)
19. Mark Morrissey (Blackrock College / UCD RFC / Leinster)
20. Reuben Crothers (Wallace High School / Ballynahinch RFC / Ulster)
21. Conor McKee (Sullivan Upper School / Queen’s University Belfast RFC / Ulster)
22. Ben Carson (Wallace High School / Banbridge RFC / Ulster)
23. Jude Postlethwaite (RBAI / Banbridge RFC / Ulster)
24. Fearghail O’Donoghue (Cashel Community School / Cashel RFC / Munster)
25. Daniel Okeke (Ard Scoil Ris / Shannon RFC / Munster)
26. Conor Rankin (Campbell College Belfast / Ballynahinch RFC / Ulster)

Wales U20s: 

Jacob Beetham, Dan John, Ioan Evans, Joe Hawkins, Carrick McDonough, Sam Costelow, Harri Williams; Garyn Phillips, Efan Daniel, Nathan Evans, Joe Peard, Dafydd Jenkins, Alex Mann (capt) Harri Deaves, Carwyn Tuipulotu

Replacements: Oliver Burrows, Theo Bevacqua, Lewys Jones, James Fender, Christ Tshiunza, Ethan Lloyd, Will Reed, Tom Florence, Morgan Richards, Eddie James, Rhys Thomas

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud



About the author:

Garry Doyle

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