Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership

Become A Member
Dublin: 1°C Sunday 7 March 2021

Ireland U20 international Jack O'Donoghue focused on constant improvement

The powerful Munster academy back row has been working hard to increase his breakdown skills.

O'Donoghue was part of the JWC squad in 2013 under Mike Ruddock.
O'Donoghue was part of the JWC squad in 2013 under Mike Ruddock.
Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

IRELAND’S U20 SIX Nations campaign has not gone wholly to plan so far, but there have been several positives in the opening three games.

None more so than in the performances of No. 8 Jack O’Donoghue during the win over Scotland [in which he was man of the match] and the defeat to Wales.

Having missed the heavy loss to England after suffering a concussion in training, the Waterford man returns to the back row for tomorrow night’s clash with Italy [KO 7.05pm].

In his second year at U20 level for Ireland, the Munster academy players is hopeful that Mike Ruddock’s side can finish the competition with wins against the Italians and France.

Working under the 2005 Grand Slam-winning coach over the course of the last two seasons has certainly aided O’Donoghue’s development. Ruddock has a reputation for marrying technical expertise with an encouraging team environment, and that is exactly what the 20-year-old back row has found.

He’s a great coach, he knows his stuff. He’s very positive and brings a lot of knowledge to the game. You can sit down with him and have a chat to see how you’re getting on. Last year, he gave me a few pointers for what to work on, like a bit of control at the back of the scrum; things to make me a better player.”

Waterford is not yet a breeding ground for professional rugby players, but O’Donoghue is hopeful of bucking that trend. He outlines that himself and his two brothers were the first in his family to play rugby, with his parents having been more interested in horse riding, although O’Donoghue jokes that “I don’t know if you’d classify that as sport.”

Rugby caught the attention of the youngster, and after taking up the game at the age of nine with Waterpark RFC, O’Donoghue has “loved it ever since.” The Waterford club has a strong youth system, with O’Donoghue having captained their U17 side to an All-Ireland title in 2011.

“When I was down in Waterpark, we had a great underage team. We won nearly everything we possibly could all the way up, so that helped greatly to get exposure. You’re playing against better players and better teams; it benefited me anyway.”

Jack OÕDonoghue scores the opening try O'Donoghue scored two tries in the victory over Scotland in round one. Source: ©INPHO/James Crombie

Impressive appearances for the Munster Youths led to international honours in 2012, when O’Donoghue captained the Ireland U18 club side. He progressed to the Ireland U19s in 2013, before Ruddock parachuted him into the Junior World Championship [U20 level] squad despite being a year younger than most of his team mates.

Munster’s academy set-up would have been foolish to ignore such potential and O’Donoghue is now in his second year of the development structure. At this stage of his career, his day-to-day training is all about improving himself as a player.

Progression rates in that improvement vary depending on each specific skill.

In different areas, it happens at different rates. One thing might take a few months to get used to – let’s say a new body position in the scrum – but then something else could come quick enough, for example putting on a bit of footwork before you come to contact.”

Be part
of the team

Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership.

Become a Member

Adding muscle mass to his 6ft 3ins frame is a constant goal too, with O’Donoghue underlining that “eating right and eating healthy” is as important as stacking extra plates onto the bar in the gym.

Ball carrying has always been an outstanding strength of O’Donoghue’s repertoire, thanks to explosive acceleration, good top end pace and an ability to fight through contact. Now the other areas of his back row play are being given attention in the academy by Grieg Oliver and Colm McMahon, the elite player development officers at Munster.

“I found I had to work a good bit on my breakdown because it’s hard being a bit lanky. It was difficult to get into a low body position to clean out the bigger, heavier fellas. I worked on that a lot at the start of the season.

“You’d be hitting pads and doing a bit of work with other people, if they’re looking to improve on the same thing. You’d pair up with them and go against each other in the drills.”

Jack O'Donoghue dejected at the final whiste O'Donoghue has enjoyed the high tempo of this year's U20 Six Nations. Source: ©INPHO/James Crombie

As a No.8, O’Donoghue says there is no better role model than the All Blacks’ “phenomenal” Kieran Read, a player whose skillset would allow him to play almost anywhere across the pitch.

Constant improvement of his own skills is central to O’Donoghue’s rugby life, as he targets a full-time spot in Munster’s senior squad. However, his focus in recent weeks has been almost exclusively on helping the Ireland U20s to achieve success in the Six Nations.

The Déise youngster has enjoyed the increased responsibility of being one of the senior members of the squad, while admitting that the “craic” has been good within the group.

Having joined up with UL Bohemians upon relocating to the University of Limerick in 2013, O’Donoghue has found the Ulster Bank League an ideal preparation for playing international U20s rugby.

I think with regards to physicality, it’s pretty much the same, but the pace of the game with the U20s has been very fast. You’ve been flat out for the whole 80 minutes. The AIL is a very good standard, but there are just times where it might dip.

“With the U20s it’s a constant high-tempo game.”

A fast-paced match is well suited to O’Donoghue’s abilities and it would be no surprise to see him impress once again against the Italians at Dubarry Park tomorrow night.

Two changes for Ireland U20s as captain Dan Leavy’s Six Nations ends

Leinster lose promising duo O’Connell and Hudson to Bristol

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

Read next: