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'Sky is the limit' for U20 lock Thomas Ahern

Forwards coach Colm Tucker also says the young side took huge benefit from their brush with the seniors.

Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

IRELAND U20 FORWARDS coach Colm Tucker is excited by how good second row Thomas Ahern could become.

The Waterford man has been one of the stand-out performers through Ireland’s two bonus point wins so far in this year’s U20 Six Nations and will be key if they are to continue their progress away to England in Franklin’s Gardens on Friday.

“The sky is the limit for him. You forget sometimes he’s still a convert. He played a lot of rugby at fullback,” says Tucker.

“What he has is an ability to have very big moments. His athleticism, his ability around line-outs is excellent.

“He knows he has plenty of aspects of his game that he has to work on, which he is diligently doing, in order for him to progress to the next level. Massive potential. not many people could have finished the try he did (against Scotland).”

Of course, Ahern’s impressive displays could not exist in a vacuum and Tucker points to the other year 2 lock in the 20s side.

“The likes of Brian Deeny beside him, the volume of work he gets through is phenomenal. Their combination has been really good for us. It allows Tom to roam a bit more, just the amount of rucks he’s hitting and the amount of tackles he’s making.

Flanker Mark Hernan is the chief injury concern for Ireland ahead of the Triple Crown showdown in Northampton.

The openside, who scored two tries last time out against Wales, has been nursing a back issue and if, he is not passed fit, head coach Noel McNamara could be forced to re-think his back row after back-to-back bonus point wins.

ireland-players-celebrate-mark-hernans-first-half-try Hernan celebrates his second try against Wales Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Cian Prendergast, who was among the replacements, will hope to force his way in among the starters with Alex Soroka and Joshua Dunne also among the potential alternatives.

For the most part, the injury update from the 20s is marked by returns. A bout of the mumps struck down Ulster trio Hayden Hyde, Ethan McIlroy and Tom Stewart either side of the round 2 fixture, while backs Niall Comerford and Max O’Reilly are also back in contention.

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The squad head to round 3 buoyed by last week’s training ground meeting with Andy Farrell’s seniors. However, it was not quite the robust hit-out of years past and parties left Cork unscathed.

“It was managed very well, I have to say,” says U20 forwards coach Colm Tucker.

“It was very clear around the contact area and entry. Andy (Farrell) policed that very well. It was more based on skill. There were clear rules, you had to have your numbers at the breakdown but it wasn’t anything like massive poaching or competition there.”

cian-prendergast-with-peter-omahony-and-dave-kilcoyne Cian Prendergast carries into Peter O'Mahony in Cork last week. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“We got a huge amount out of it. First of all, just the experience of training against that intensity and the pace they brought.

“A lot of that was around their own mindset. We had to really view them as our peers and be a challenge for them as well. It ended up that way.

“We made a couple of mistakes early on, coughed up a little bit of possession and we got punished very, very quickly. That was a huge learning for us.

When we looked after the ball and backed ourselves, we got a lot of value. I think the boys took a lot of confidence from that.

“It was a hugely beneficial exercise from a learning point of view but also that when we played rugby, we were able to get some rewards.”

The focus on themselves has been a key driver for this U20 group. So Tucker and the coaching ticket will be wary of energy levels dropping after the excitement of a brush with the seniors. Not that it’s likely with England on the horizon.

“That’s the huge focus for us this week, the quality of our training because that is reflected in our performances. We put a lot of stock in Monday and Tuesday and what we get out of those as we build towards the Friday night.

“I think week on week we are getting more cohesive. This will be our fourth game together when you include the Munster game at the start, hopefully we are starting to really hit our straps now.”

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Sean Farrell

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