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'It's exciting working with these players - the sky's the limit for them'

Noel McNamara’s Ireland U20s are two from two in the Six Nations.

IS THERE ANOTHER James Ryan on show? Who’s the next Peter O’Mahony? Is there a Conor Murray-esque figure among this crop?

Michael Milne, David Hawkshaw, Conor Phillips, Harry Byrne and Jonathan Wren celebrate Michael Milne, David Hawkshaw, Conor Phillips, Harry Byrne and Jonathan Wren. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Watching the Ireland U20s is always an interesting experience, with the potential of those involved very clear, but with no guarantees for where rugby will take them after age grade rugby.

The latest crop of U20s delivered another performance that showed their potential on Friday night, with three tries securing a win against Scotland in Galashiels.

Clearly, any player good enough to feature in an Ireland U20s squad is on the brink of making it but those who have turned underage international promise into senior rugby success have had to work tirelessly for it.

With this year’s U20s, there isn’t too much concern about them potentially easing off the pedal. They’ve got two wins from two in the Six Nations following Friday’s victory over the Scots but they’re far from satisfied yet.

The feeling after their surprise [on the outside, not within the group] win over England in Cork was that there was plenty more left in the team. Even after scoring three tries to win away from home in difficult conditions in Scotland, the sense was very much the same.

“There are lots of elements of the performance that we’ll be frustrated with,” said head coach Noel McNamara in summing up how his players felt at not securing a bonus-point. “Frustrated is probably the word.

“You’ve got to balance that out over the course of the game and say that Scotland made it very, very difficult for us – you’ve got to give them credit for a pretty obstinate defensive performance and they frustrated us.

Martin Moloney celebrates at the final whistle Back row Martin Moloney celebrates. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“On the balance of it, we’re two from two. We came away with four points when a lot of
Irish teams have struggled to get a result here in the past. We’d be happy enough but frustration is a word that keeps coming back to me.”

Hooker Dylan Tierney-Martin, number eight John Hodnett and left wing Jonathan Wren were Ireland’s try-scorers in Galashiels, while Harry Byrne kicked nine points off the tee.

McNamara expressed happiness with the defensive performance and noted how neither team had managed to fully harness a “howling” wind on the night.

The victory leaves Ireland top of the U20 Six Nations table with a visit to Italy to look forward to on Friday 22 February, but McNamara says this mature squad aren’t getting carried away with themselves.

“As a group, they’re pretty balanced,” said McNamara. “There’s a lot of leaders within it. One of the leaders, Craig Casey, wasn’t available [through injury] but you saw Liam Turner step up.

“He actually came into the leadership group this week and stepped up with a performance befitting a leader. In terms of what they can do, they’re really just focused on looking at where they can get better. Italy is going to be a big challenge over there. They had an impressive performance against Scotland.”

Scrum-half Casey will be back in contention for the Italy game – he trained with Munster’s senior team in Limerick today – and the Ireland U20s have strong options across the pitch.

McNamara praised the display from fullback Jake Flannery in Scotland, the Kilfeacle man having “found solutions” with his kicking game in the wind, while the performance of the highly-mobile and skillful front row of Josh Wycherley, Tierney-Martin and Thomas Clarkson was also exciting.

John Hodnett Clonakilty man John Hodnett carried strongly again. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“For me, you need to be a rugby player first and foremost,” said McNamara. “They’re
certainly encouraged to be exactly that.

“All of them are comfortable on the ball and you would have seen right at the end, [Connacht second row] Niall Murray was one of the people that played square, drew and passed to get Jonathan Wren away on the edge. That’s something that we would value highly and equally their set-piece ability is pretty strong as well.

“The likes of Tadhg Furlong and these guys have changed the landscape for Ireland front row players and James Ryan for Irish forwards so it’s great that they’ve got role models like them to look up to and emulate.

“It’s exciting working with these players – the sky’s the limit for them. We just want them to be as good as they possibly can be. It’s up to them really.” 

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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