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'There is a lot of X-factor in this group': Carolan ranks U20 team as one of Ireland's best

The head coach singled out Jordan Larmour, Oisin Dowling, Caelan Doris and Fineen Wycherley after outstanding performances in the Six Nations so far.

THROUGH HIS DUAL role as Connacht’s academy manager and Ireland U20 head coach, Nigel Carolan has seen groups of players come through the system and forge careers for themselves in the professional game.

Nigel Carolan Carolan at the team hotel in Sandymount yesterday. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Carolan has been involved with this age grade since 2008 and has held the head position for the last three years following Mike Ruddock’s decision to step down; he knows potential when he sees it and knows what it takes to make it at the top-level.

So when he talks about the current Ireland U20s group as one which has a lot of ‘X-factor’, you sit up and take notice.

Jack Kelly and his team-mates may not be able to emulate the feat of the 2010 side, who won the championship, but there is certainly a lot of excitement around some of the individuals within the current squad.

Jordan Larmour has been sensational throughout the campaign, while the likes of Bill Johnston, Calvin Nash, Rob Lyttle and Johnny McPhillips have all already played in the Pro12 for their respective provinces.

The backline has been spoken about regularly, and they’ve shown glimpses of their devastating potential, but up-front Ireland have also produced strong showings.

Leinster lock Oisin Dowling and Munster’s Fineen Wycherley — who last week made his Pro12 debut for the southern province — have been outstanding while Caelan Doris, who is a year young, has impressed immensely.

“These are some of the best guys that we have had,” Carolan admits. “Every year they are bigger, stronger. They’ve a little bit more knowledge than the guys that have gone before them.

Jordan Larmour Larmour has been one of the stars of Ireland's championship. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Obviously James Ryan was maybe the beacon from last year but I think maybe our expectations weren’t as high when we compare Oisin and Fineen to where James was last year but they have certainly performed consistently well in every game. The exposure they’re getting is a lot higher.

“There is a lot of x-factor in this group. They’re trying to learn consistency. That’s the biggest thing for them. Even about communication when after four or five phases at that level of intensity, the lungs are burning, they go quiet.

“That’s just the natural tendency. They just have to learn that you can’t afford to go quiet. That’s when you lose your connections and there are gaps in defence. You’re going to get punished against the better sides.”

There is huge potential all over the field, but Larmour, in particular, has been the standout performer from Ireland’s four games to date.

The former St Andrew’s College student has proved why he is so highly-regarded at Leinster with a number of explosive performances and Carolan admits the versatile back is ready to make that step-up to professional rugby.

“Once you give the guy a bit of space, you know you are in trouble,” he said of Larmour.

“He has shown that against the best of what the other nations’ back three had to offer. He has devastating pace. He’s a very balanced runner, very composed. He rarely makes mistakes. There is a place for him, not just at professional level but at international level.

“He’s extremely quick, he’s got good high-ball skills. He’s a good runner and a good communicator. I think he’s going to have the make the jump in not too distant future.

Fineen Wycherley Fineen Wycherley has impressed and last week made his Munster debut. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“There are other players out there who are being extremely consistent like Fineen, Oisin Dowling and Caelan Doris. There is nothing holding those guys back.

“They are outstanding, consistent performers. They will make little mistakes but that’s where they are learning. They are guys that have very bright futures.”

In the immediate future, Ireland’s focus is on rectifying the issues which saw them slip to defeat in Wales last time out when England visit Donnybrook on St Patrick’s Day.

The result means Ireland’s hopes of a championship title and Grand Slam are now over but there is still plenty on the line for the hosts with a U20 World Championship in Georgia on the horizon.

Carolan will likely have to plan without his captain again for Friday night’s game [KO 6pm] after Kelly suffered a relapse of the same shoulder injury which has kept him sidelined since the first weekend.

Connacht’s Cillian Gallagher won’t be risked and is out of the final game but Gavin Mullin returns after recovering from the hamstring injury he sustained in the open training session against the senior squad in Monaghan a few weeks ago.

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Ryan Bailey

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