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'Still hurting': Ireland U20s out to put 6 Nations behind them in high-tempo JWC

Nigel Carolan’s side slipped to three consecutive defeats in Spring, but on a fast pitch they’re ready to take on New Zealand.

IRELAND UNDER 20s head coach Nigel Carolan wants this international window to be the time his charges show their variation and adaptability.

Nigel Carolan Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The age grade internationals begin their World Cup campaign in Italy on Tuesday. The perfect chance to put the Six Nations behind them while continuing to develop as rounded players on the way to becoming professionals.

“I don’t think it was mixed at all,” Carolan corrects after a colleague is generous about the spring campaign.

“We were just very disappointed with how it fizzled out. Maybe there was a level of expectation we’d put on ourselves and it was certainly created by the first two games.”

Those opening fixtures witnessed two accomplished displays from Ireland. First, they ran out 15 – 47 winners in horrible February conditions in Italy, and they returned home with a stunning display of attacking rugby against France. The problem was what followed, three defeats and diminishing return of points on the board the longer the tournament went on.

Ross Byrne Ross Byrne clears his lines against Italy, the brilliant out-half has been ruled out of the World Cup through injury. Source: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

“I don’t think any player relishes playing in the conditions we experienced in Italy. We profile as a skillful side, reasonably fit.

“When we play with tempo we’re an extremely dangerous team. We’ve got to find that balance between playing with tempo and having an effective kicking game, having the ability to transition between the two with ease.

“That’s going to be our biggest challenge and it’s what we’re focusing on.”

While Carolan has had limited opportunities to get his squad together since the Six Nations, he can at least take comfort in the amount of experience he is able to retain in his squad. While coaches at this level usually have in the region of 10 uncapped players, Ireland have only half-backs Charlie Rock and Tomás Quinlan (a late addition in place of number 10 Ross Byrne) with asterisks against their name.

‘Still hurting’

“At this stage it’s very important that it’s settled,” says the man who doubles as Connacht’s academy manager.

“We’re going to rely on the players, their understanding and awareness of what they need to bring and again how close the margins are between winning and losing. They’re still hurting from the Six Nations. So I hope they take that hurt with them, certainly in to the first game of the World Cup, and prove a point that we didn’t get to prove in the Six Nations.”

That opening fixture comes against Argentina in Parma on Tuesday (kick-off 15.30 Irish time) and on top of the physicality traditionally associated with the South Americans, Carolan is expecting some Latin flair.

“From the little bit of footage we have of Argentina, they’re no easy task. They’re extremely physical and unstructured. Their unpredictability makes them a difficult team to play against, but it’s our primary focus, our only focus at this stage.”

Four days later, the ‘Wolfpuppies’ take on Scotland before finishing off the group stage with the toughest task in rugby, New Zealand, on 10 June.

It promises to be a taxing eight days on the body and minds of players with the promise of play-offs to follow after the points have been divvied up. Though in his first season in charge, Carolan is well-versed in the requirements having travelled to four previous tournaments.

“[World Cups] are tough going, the challenge is keeping guys fresh, making sure they’re rested in between games. So in terms of  training there will be very little preparation. We just need to be so specific about what we’re trying to achieve and trying to maximise our own strengths as a team.”

Sam Arnold Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Without Byrne, Ireland will require some bedding in time to impose their own game on the opposition. But it’s worth remembering that the squad that earned Ireland’s first ever top four finish at a World Cup last year began with a setback when captain Sean O’Brien was ruled out through injury.

Many stars of the current group were part of the 2014 campaign and proved they can adapt to changing situations. The upcoming fortnight is another chance to show their ability to mix it with the world’s best.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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