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U20s working to create their own momentum on tough away trip
After feeling the full benefit of home support against Scotland and Wales, the Grand Slam winners will put their streak on the line in England.

THROUGHOUT THE TWO-WEEK build-up to tomorrow’s U20 Six Nations clash with England (kick-off 19.35, Sky Sports Mix), Ireland coaches and players have leaned heavily on the old ‘we’re focusing on ourselves’ line.

ireland-players-on-the-pitch-before-the-game Morgan Treacy / INPHO Ireland players head out for a warm-up in Cork. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

It’s a maxim that carries more weight at age grade than it does at senior. There’s plenty of time in the years ahead to indulge in professional pursuits of realism and cynicism, focus on thwarting an opponent rather than accentuating positive play.

Key in that inward focus for head coach Noel McNamara is an effort to compensate for the absence of a partisan support to push them along when they make their first away trip of the Championship after back-to-back bonus point wins at home.

Franklin’s Gardens in Northampton will host tomorrow’s clash with the (also unbeaten) English. And the majority of those in attendance will be baying for the reigning Grand Slam winners to pass down their crown.

Through Ireland’s opening two matches they have run very hot and – not cold exactly – but most certainly off the boil for stages.

The second half of the opening night win was just seven minutes old when Tom Stewart charged away and supplied a brilliant try for Tom Ahern. The bonus point and win were in the bag, but it would be 25 minutes before the hosts tagged on their next score to kill off the potential fightback from Scotland.

Similarly, against Wales, the bonus was secured by half-time and the hosts then struggled to find their rhythm after the interval.

“The crowd went a bit flat and we went a bit flat as well,” McNamara said after the win in Cork.

“There’s learning in that for us. We’re going to have to get that buzz from ourselves, from each other, when you go away from home to Franklin’s Gardens.”

He added: “It’s about feeding off each other. Sometimes it’s eye energy… when you see a team that’s connected it’s evidenced in the little things like working hard for each other. You can see that in support at line-breaks, see it in working hard to get back.”

McNamara moved to highlight one stand-out example of industry from replacement scrum-half Ben Murphy. There were individual exceptions to the collective slow-down in several areas. On both occasions Ulster academy hooker Stewart provided his side an invaluable option. His carrying – most notably for Ahern’s sensational try against Scotland, but consistently against Wales – regularly provided a spark of front-foot ball for Ireland to work from.

“I was happy enough,” the hooker said after training in the IRFU’s Abbottstown base this week.

thomas-ahern-celebrates-scoring-a-try-with-tom-stewart-and-ethan-mcilroy James Crombie / INPHO Stewart and McIlroy are first to reach Tom Ahern after his scorching run in round one. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“I got a lot of lucky opportunities with the boys doing the hard work. It was a good game and the boys were really happy. But we knew ourselves that we had stuff to work on as well.”

It appears that Stewart’s efforts to work at fine-tuning his own game were dealt a setback by a bout of the mumps after his excellent showing against Wales. He has been named among the replacements for tomorrow’s showdown with England. So he will have to deliver his energy and impact in the business end of the fixture.

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“The boys know, going away especially, it’s going to be a lot different atmosphere (than) down in Cork on a Friday night with 5,000 people behind you,” the hooker adds.

“Just high-tempo and high energy, in everything we do in training. It’s just force of habit. it’s through training that we know on Friday night we don’t have to worry about it.  We’re just going to do it with that buzz and that energy around each other.”

That effort to build more good habits and sharper reflexes will, with any luck, make their performance all the better too. The first two run-outs weren’t half bad, their third match together will be their toughest yet.

“We can say we’re happy with where we are, but we’re not happy,” says Stewart.

“We know we’ve 20 or 30% per cent to grow. We know we can get that much better in the little things that we’re doing as well.

“Just back to the habits in training and stuff. That’s our main thing, just building habits.”

Winning is a nice one to have.

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