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Dublin: 4 °C Monday 17 February, 2020

Schmidt's Ireland feel the benefit of high-intensity U20s hit-out

21 senior players involved as Ireland’s three-day Belfast camp ends with open session.

Ryan Bailey reports from Queen’s University, Belfast

A DOWN WEEK this may have been in name, but the levels of intensity never let up throughout Ireland’s open training session in Belfast this morning, as Joe Schmidt’s side concluded a three-day camp with a high-energy blowout. 

Noel McNamara’s U20s side provided the opposition during a typically full-on session which lasted a little over an hour and was played out in front of a large Friday morning crowd basking in glorious spring sunshine.

The Ireland senior and under 20 teams shake hands Ireland seniors and U20s shake hands. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It was a useful workout for Schmidt’s Ireland at the end of their three-day get-together up north, and certainly the energy and enthusiasm of the U20s — who are three from three in their Six Nations campaign — provided a stern challenge for the seniors.

Johnny Sexton and Joey Carbery trained away from the main group, getting through agility and light running drills under the supervision of one of Schmidt’s backroom staff at one end of the pitch, while many of the watching eyes were fixed on the other end. 

There was nothing light about the semi-contact training match on the main pitch of Queen’s University’s impressive sports complex, as 21 senior players earned their weekend off.

Among those involved were CJ Stander, Garry Ringrose, Iain Henderson, Jordan Larmour and Tadhg Beirne, who are all back fit and firing after recent injuries, while Dan Leavy was in attendance, although confined to a watching brief. 

From last weekend’s victory over Italy in Rome, captain Rory Best, Cian Healy, Jack Conan and James Ryan were also back on duty but Robbie Henshaw was not there, although Schmidt confirmed he had trained separately with Leavy earlier on Friday. 

Stander’s recovery from a suspected fractured cheek boosts the squad ahead of the visit of France and although the Munster number eight withdrew from the session at one stage after ‘being poked in the eye’, he is straining at the leash to play again.

For Schmidt and his coaching team, who have had time to reflect on Ireland’s three substandard performances and find the answers required ahead of round four, the 68-minute session against a hungry U20s opposition was a good morning’s work.

“It’s great for us and it’s great for the 20s,’ the head coach said.

“I love having the 20s mixed in with our guys. We have lunch together now so the 20s get to know the senior players, they get to chat to them. Those small chats can help give confidence, help give a bit of direction and at the same time, it’s great for them because we get to know who they are as well.”

Mixing with the senior team in training drills before lining up against them in a short game where the focus is on building up a volume of work, the experience is invaluable for McNamara’s group, who themselves are preparing for a big game against France in Cork next week. 

Jacob Stockdale with fans Jacob Stockdale with fans after today's session. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Leinster’s Harry Byrne looked very comfortable throughout the run-out, confidently whipping passes off both sides and exhibiting his smart kicking game, while scrum-half Craig Casey, Aaron O’Sullivan and Jonathan Wren all saw plenty of the ball.

“If you look at the last two or three years and some of the guys who have come through from the 20s, the James Ryans, the Andrew Porters, the Jordan Larmours, those quality players,” Schmidt continued.

“Even going back to guys like Garry Ringrose who has been an established player with us for quite some time, he was training with the 20s against us in these sessions.

“It is a great way to get a volume of work done, it means we both have a slightly smaller squad. They had a bit of a bigger squad than us and it was a fresh team on, a fresh team off each time which was a really good challenge for our guys because they had to work hard.

“The 20s are always pretty fit and enthusiastic, we enjoy those sessions. It’s not a match weekend for us so it was important we did get a bit of volume of work done.”

The open sessions during the Six Nations period always prove to be popular among supporters and there was another healthy turnout here as plenty of local schoolchildren were given the morning off school to attend.

Ulster second row Henderson, whose wife and young daughter were among those in attendance, 

“I think all of us from here who have been at the camp have been excited to have the lads up,” he said of the past few days. “And chuffed not to have to drive down to Cork or wherever.

I think in general the lads have enjoyed it, we’ve been training at the PEC [Queen's Physical Education Centre], the gym there is brilliant, we got out for a black taxi tour, out for a nice dinner, even out for a few drinks in Belfast.

“These weeks with no game — I was going to say down week but as you saw there it’s definitely not a down week — it gives you the opportunity to come together as a squad, to have a bit of craic and enjoy time with each other.

“As a squad that really tightens you and brings cohesion to the squad, it just makes you feel more comfortable in the environment which in turn makes you play better.”

Back to Carton on Tuesday for the start of the serious business.

Bernard Jackman joins Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey to discuss the backlash to World Rugby’s league proposal, captaincy styles, sports psychology and more in The42 Rugby Weekly.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Ryan Bailey

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