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Dublin: 9°C Monday 10 May 2021

Another title within reach for McNamara's magnificent U20s

Triple Crown last night, Ireland U20s can add the Championship and Grand Slam if they sustain their winning run.

FOLLOWING UP THE remarkable Grand Slam success of 2019 was supposed to be an onerous task for the new crop of U20s brought under Noel McNamara’s wing.

Yet the 2020 batch have an opportunity to claim back-to-back Six Nations titles – a first for Ireland U20s – when they host Italy in Cork on 6 March.

A bonus point success will set an unassailable target. Even if they fall short of a fourth try on home soil, a win would take them to a Grand Slam decider when they travel to France in the final round.

Ireland’s title credentials were laid out for all to see as they sealed the U20 Triple Crown in their show-stopping 21-39 win away to England in Northampton last night.

ireland-players-celebrate-in-a-team-huddle-after-the-game Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

That bonus point win, coupled with Wales’ shock 14-11 win over France in Colwyn Bay has left the side captained by the redoubtable David McCann one big performance away from another title.

Since the tournament’s inception (as U21s) in 2004, Ireland forced their way to two commendable title wins in 2007 and 2010 before bagging a second Grand Slam at the top age grade last season.

wales-players-celebrate-at-the-final-whistle Wales celebrate the final whistle. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

As you will surely hear McNamara say soon enough, Ireland’s next opponents up – Italy -  are a very useful side and won’t be viewed as a ready-made walkover by the Leinster academy boss or his players after the Azzurri won in Wales and led away to France at half-time a fortnight ago.

For outsiders though, there are no shortage of reasons to be confident. The three matches so far in this Six Nations have seen different young men stand up with big performances and highlight reel moments each time. And there are plenty of quality players who will still feel their moment has yet to come.

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Jack Crowley stole the limelight on opening night, while Hayden Hyde’s carrying and offloading was sensational in both of his appearances.

Ethan McIlroy was also forced out of the clash with Wales due to illness. But after excelling without the ball in round one, he looked in rude attacking health last night as he expertly executed a round-the-back offload while keeping his feet well off the touchline.

Thomas Ahern is proving to be the freak athlete Munster and Ireland had dared not dream about – a devastating combination of a fullback-turned-lock who wreaks havoc when he arrives to carry from breakdowns long before defences are set.

We could go on through a list topped by Tom Stewart, Oran McNulty, Lewis Finlay, Brian Deeny, Sean O’Brien, Andrew Smith, Dan Kelly and Thomas Clarkson, but underlying the individual quality of the men involved is a collective strength.

irelands-max-oreilly-scores-a-try Max O'Reilly runs in a try to keep the game beyond England. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

That is precisely what was on show in Franklin’s Gardens and ensured they carved a path through England to score six tries – and leave a few behind them.

As a group, Ireland showed a willingness to back themselves and their team-mates. To pass with efficiency and without delay across midfield. To carry hard, to offload and support with a venom and confidence that is more commonly spotted in teams lying between Pacific and Tasman.

The title is not yet in the bag, but at U20 level the trophy is less important than then the ability the team environment can foster.

And McNamara’s side – for the second year running- look able to take on any side with their tempo, power, skill and the confidence to use it all to devastating effect.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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