England's Marcus Smith attempts to tackle Liam Turner in a 2019 U20s Six Nations contest at Musgrave Park. Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
Conveyor belt

U20s' Slam success brings back fond memories of close-knit 2019 team for Leinster's Turner

The 23-year-old centre also coached this year’s Ireland 20s captain, Gus McCarthy, at their alma mater Blackrock College.

WHILE LIAM TURNER was thrilled to be in attendance to see the senior team securing a clean sweep of honours at the Aviva Stadium last Saturday, the success of the Ireland U20s in Musgrave Park a day later was one that evoked strong memories for the 23-year-old Leinster centre.

Back in 2019, Turner donned the number 13 jersey as Ireland secured an underage Grand Slam with a final round win over Wales in Colwyn Bay. Whereas they were the first Irish team to achieve this feat in the U20s era – they had done so in the final year of the U21 Six Nations in 2007 – the past two seasons have seen them claim back-to-back Slams under the guidance of Richie Murphy.

Although he acknowledges that the pressure on the current crop of Ireland hopefuls was stronger than it might have been four years ago, Turner believes the strength of the squad he was a part of meant they were always likely to be in the shake-up from the word go.

“Before our year, they didn’t do so well, but looking back on the group we had, it was a very close-knit group right from the start. Full of quality as well if you look at the likes of Harry Byrne, Craig [Casey], Ryan Baird, Scott Penny. The list is endless. So many of that team are playing senior now; playing for Ireland, playing for their provinces,” Turner remarked at a Leinster media briefing on Monday.

“We were lucky to have a great bunch of lads with a heap of talent.

liam-turner-celebrates-with-friends-after-the-game Turner celebrates with friends after Ireland U20s' win over France at Musgrave Park in 2019. Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

“The captain [of this year’s team] Gus McCarthy, when I left school, I would have coached him for a couple of years with the senior side as well. I know him very well and it’s great to see him leading from the front.”

A few hours before Baird was delivering a strong performance in the Ireland second-row in their Grand Slam-clincher against England at the Aviva last Saturday, another member of the U20s class of 2019 was making his senior international debut for an entirely different nation.

Following an injury sustained by Harry Byrne, Munster’s Ben Healy lined out in the closing two rounds of that underage Grand Slam win four years ago. With a number of players ahead of him in the pecking order at out-half for Ireland, Healy agreed a deal to sign with Edinburgh for the beginning of next season, with a view to breaking into Gregor Townsend’s Scotland set-up.

This decision reaped early dividends when he was named in the Scottish squad for the Six Nations and he subsequently made his bow for them as a 67th-minute replacement in their 26-14 success over Italy at Murrayfield Stadium.

Turner fully backs his former team-mate for taking this route and feels he is well in contention to feature for the Scots at this year’s World Cup finals in France.

“You have to back him, I think. He saw an opportunity and I think it has paid off for him already. He went straight into the Scottish set-up and makes his debut there against Italy. You can’t question it. I think it was a fantastic move for him. He backed himself and you have to respect it.

“As a rugby player, you want to play at the highest level and I think that is in a Rugby World Cup. I’m sure he’s gunning to be doing that and I’ve no doubt that he’ll be pushing for it.”

ben-healy-and-ed-scragg Ben Healy in action in Ireland U20s' Slam decider in 2019. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Of course, Turner has senior international ambitions of his own and while he will need to establish himself at provincial level before he can contemplate breaking into Andy Farrell’s set-up, he has been doing his best to make an impression at Leinster while their Irish contingent have been away.

He is expected to make his fourth start in succession against the Stormers at the RDS on Friday and with World Cup winners included amongst the ranks of the defending URC champions, he sees it as an ideal opportunity to lay down a marker.

“You want to be playing against the best players in the world and see how you fare against them. That’s what you base yourself off. In terms of preparation during the week, it has pretty much been the same. We approach each game the same way. We know they’re going to come with a lot of intensity, so we’re looking forward to seeing how we fare with that,” Turner added.

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