Murray Kinsella reports from Cumbernauld
THE IRELAND SUPPORTERS who made the trek to Cumbernauld on Friday were greeted by icy and wet weather, but late wins for the U20s and Women were warming rewards.
After Paula Fitzpatrick and her team-mates had secured a last-gasp victory in their Six Nations opener, thanks to a Jenny Murphy try, the U20s pulled off a similar feat against their Scottish counterparts.
A late Paul Boyle score, converted by out-half Johnny McPhillips, was enough for Nigel Carolan’s latest crop of talented young Irishmen to get off to a 20-19 winning start in their Six Nations.
Though the weather conditions ensured a high error count on both sides, there were glimpses of the potential in this Irish team, with second rows Oisin Dowling and Fineen Wycherley outstanding.
Number eight Caelan Doris and blindside Cillian Gallagher were also excellent, proving their quality most notably in the build-up to that Boyle try with some powerful carrying.
“There’s guys there, without a doubt, who’ll be playing international rugby in a few years,” said head coach Carolan afterwards.
“I thought the two locks today were unbelievable. I thought Caelan Doris, an 18-year-old number eight, had an unbelievable game. He didn’t want to come off in the end, but he had emptied the tank and I thought he was massive today.
“There’s huge potential in the group, so for us just getting that team cohesion is going to be the biggest challenge and we’re only going to get better as the campaign goes on.
“It’s a good starting point to come over to Scotland, we haven’t won here for a few years, so to come away with a win – albeit by one point – we’ll certainly take the positives out of that.”
Gallagher and McPhillips were the only two players back for the U20s from last year’s campaign, but their experience was important in a tense affair at Broadwood Stadium.
“I thought Johnny was huge, having that year of experience, you could hear the chat out of him,” said Carolan. “We were asking what he was saying and he was on the money, even at the last play of the game on our scrum he was on about keeping the ball and getting into the little zigzag that we do.
“I thought his leadership was huge, I thought his goal-kicking and line-kicking were very good. It’s massive to have those guys back. Some of the guys haven’t played international rugby before, so it’s a big step, so you can’t expect anyone to be perfect.”
Indeed, it was far from perfect from Ireland, but they now look towards this weekend’s visit to Italy heartened by their show of grit in the closing stages against the Scots. Carolan sees major scope for improvement from his side in round two.
“Without doubt. I thought there was some massive individual performances but, as a team, we have yet to sort of gel.
“A lot of errors and mistakes. The weather didn’t help the game we wanted to play because it was greasy and it meant there was a lot of stoppages.
“I thought Scotland were very strong on their scrum and it prevented us from raising the tempo of the game, which we were looking to do today but we weren’t able to get that going.”
The scrum will be the chief area of concern after the Scots dominated in that department, while Carolan says he is likely to be working with the same squad for next weekend’s fixture.
Captain and fullback Jack Kelly picked up an AC joint injury against Scotland, but the initial feeling was that he would not miss out on facing Italy.
Carolan said the likes of Ulster wing/fullback Rob Lyttle, Munster out-half Bill Johnston, Leinster hooker Ronan Kelleher and Munster back row John Foley will all come into the mix soon too, although probably not for this weekend.
“There’s a few guys we may like to introduce in the next few weeks, there’s four or five guys there. They are just recovering from injuries. Maybe not next week, so I’d say we’ll be working with what we’ve got for Italy.”
Subscribe to The42 Rugby Show podcast here: