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Grand Slam success only the start for McNamara's band of brothers

Munster prop Josh Wycherley wants the side to push on and challenge at this summer’s U20 World Championship.

IT SAYS A lot about the mentality and vision of this extraordinarily talented group of young players that minutes after achieving a feat that few others have accomplished, they were so clear-minded and utterly focused on building on the success. 

It would have been easy, and completely understandable, for Noel McNamara’s young side to become distracted in the immediate aftermath of Friday’s Grand Slam victory in Wales, yet they all spoke with clarity and maturity outside the dressing room.

Ireland players celebrate with the trophy in the dressing room after the game The victorious Ireland dressing room. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

One-by-one, Dylan Tierney-Martin, captain Charlie Ryan, Josh Wycherley and Angus Kernohan emerged from the celebrations with their medals hanging around their neck to articulate what had just happened. You could hardly blame them for struggling to do so.

“Jesus, unbelievable, to be honest,” Wycherley laughed. “I can’t put it into words, it’s just crazy to take it all in.”

Wycherley played an integral role throughout Ireland’s memorable campaign, scoring two tries in the victory over France in Cork, while his all-round work-rate and set-piece excellence made him one of the standout performers.

The 19-year-old — the younger brother of Fineen, and a member of the Munster academy — helped Ireland achieve a 100% success rate on their own scrum throughout the tournament and looked back on the opening weekend win over England as the catalyst for it all. 

“We started our Six Nations well and we wanted to finish it well,” he continued. “It’s been from the start. That camp down in Fota [in January], we just came together and out on that pitch, it was like playing with your brothers, to be honest.

“Today was just another day, just another day to show our ability. We knew we hadn’t produced our full 100% performance to date, and that wasn’t 100% either by any means, but it really showed our character and cohesion as a team.

We’ve all enjoyed the two months together and really looking forward to our next step on towards the World Cup.

The prop added: “In the last two years at U18 and U19 level, it would have brought us together a lot. It has been the same core group of players coming up through so we’re just really familiar with each other and we all get on very well. It’s a huge part in a team succeeding.”

Second row Ryan, who stood in as skipper for the injured David Hawkshaw in the final two games, agreed.

“The thing I can pick out from the tournament is just the confidence we have in each other, the trust we have in each other. That’s my main takeaway.

John Hodnett and Josh Wycherley celebrate John Hodnett and Josh Wycherley. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I don’t think any of us will ever forget this. That being said, we’ll look to kick on and have a really good World Cup campaign.” 

While Ireland enjoyed their well-deserved celebrations over the weekend with family and friends, the attention switches pretty quickly for the majority of the squad, with David McCann, Callum Reid and Iwan Hughes already en route to Boston with the Ulster ‘A’ squad.

Next on the agenda for McNamara’s side will be June’s U20 World Championship in Argentina, a tournament they will go into with plenty of confidence but also in the knowledge that it will be another step-up again. 

Last year’s ninth-place finish handed Ireland a low seeding this time around, meaning a difficult draw alongside England, Australia and Italy.

“This feels like the start of something, absolutely,” Wycherley added. “There’s always room for improvement and that’s what we’ve said from the start. Just rebuild again and get going to push on again this summer.”

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Ryan Bailey

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