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50 passes a night put Finlay on the U20 fast track

The Ulster academy 9 took his lead from Aaron Smith after a relatively late start to his rugby path.

Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

AS A RELATIVE latecomer and somewhat of an outsider to the elite rugby school set, Lewis Finlay was acutely aware that he would have to put in a little extra work to set himself apart.

The Ireland U20 scrum-half, taking inspiration from the standard-bearer All Black Aaron Smith, put a disciplined framework around his efforts to hone and improve a core skill. He fired off 50 passes a night before tucking into his dinner.

“I remember reading an article on (Aaron Smith), with his dad he used to do 10 passes every night before he had dinner. That’s something I started to do with my dad.”

Smith, according to the Rugby World article in 2012, used a sticker as a fixed-point target and his father had him slinging passes until he hit the sticker 10 times.

“I started, and I still do, 50 passes every night off each hand with my dad. It’s something (passing accuracy) I admire Aaron Smith has had, because it’s carried through his career.

“I was 15 (when he began), I realised it was time to make a point of difference in my game.

“If it wasn’t going to come through huge athletic gains, it seemed like something consistent that I could develop myself. Luckily, it’s stood me in good stead and I can keep working on it and keep developing it.”

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lewis-finlay Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Finlay counted himself as a footballer before turning a serious focus to rugby at 15 in Down High School. With the round ball he put his pace and right foot to good use as a winger with Saintfield United. With the oval ball rarely far from his hands he quickly grabbed the eye of Ulster and worked his way into the sub-academy and now academy.

Last Friday night in Cork was his first true big-game experience. He took pointers from team-mates on what to expect from the atmosphere. He wasn’t disappointed and he wasn’t overawed.

What wasn’t new was his partnership with Munster out-half Jack Crowley after the pair teamed up at U19 grade last year. The relationship has strengthened since.

“We feed off each other well, because we can sort of manage each other’s emotions during the game. I was delighted with how he played, though we’ve a lot to work on come the next game. It was a good start for us as a half-back pairing.

“I feel confident playing with Jack and he’s confident playing with me. It’s nice to have someone you know well enough. I actually stayed in Jack’s house the night before one of the  Cork camps, so I know him pretty well at this stage.”

Clearly, he carries immense admiration for Aaron Smith, Faf de Klerk and of course John Cooney. But after a six-try U20 Six Nations win and targetting another against Wales on Friday, Finlay is fast becoming his own man.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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