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Dublin: 5°C Thursday 4 March 2021

Ireland head coach sees room for improvement as focus shifts to 'physical' Australia

Noel McNamara’s side made a positive start to the World Rugby U20 Championship by seeing off England.

IRELAND HEAD COACH Noel McNamara has told his players that they’ll encounter a stubborn and physical opponent when they resume their World Rugby U20 Championship campaign against Australia on Saturday.

Having captured a Six Nations Grand Slam earlier this year, McNamara’s side continued their winning form yesterday by recording an impressive victory over England in their tournament opener in Santa Fe, Argentina.

Two of Ireland’s six tries came courtesy of Ulster’s David McCann, while Jake Flannery, Stewart Moore, Ben Healy and John Hodnett also crossed in a 42-26 win.

inpho_01559065 Ireland U20 captain Charlie Ryan after his side's win against England.

Earlier in the day, Australia brushed aside the challenge of Italy in their opening Pool B game. The Junior Wallabies were 36 points to the good before the Italians snatched two late tries to put some respectability on the final scoreline (36-12).

“What strikes you is how good their defence is, how physical they are as a side, with a very, very strong pack in particular,” McNamara said of the Australians. “If you look at their last three games, I think they’ve only conceded three tries, between Fiji, New Zealand and Italy.

“The two tries they conceded against Italy came in the last 10 minutes, so I think that gives an indication of the challenge that they’re going to pose, particularly in terms of their defence.

“Their captain, Fraser McReight, is exceptionally strong over the ball. There are going to be a few areas where we’re really going to have to be at the top of our game if we want to come out on the right side of the result.”

Ireland enjoyed a numerical advantage for 34 minutes of their win over England, who were hampered by their own indiscipline. Aaron Hinkley and Manu Vunipola were shown yellow cards either side of half-time, before Alfie Barbeary was red-carded in the 66th minute, just moments after he was introduced as a substitute.

“Discipline is so important,” McNamara said today. “It’s one of the big areas we’ve had a focus on throughout the course of the year. We’ve had referees in to referee training and we’ve had a number of modules for the players. I think that was really evident yesterday.

“Despite the fact that the game broke up a little bit like that, I felt the boys kept their discipline really, really well. Obviously it proved quote costly for England.

“I think it’s something that World Rugby are really looking at. We had a meeting here on Day 2 of this tournament around foul play, and it’s something that they really are looking to stamp out of the game and looking to make the game safer for everybody.

“I think it’s something that’s going to be really, really important and it’s something we’re confident in many ways that we’ve built good habits around. But equally it’s something that we are conscious of and we’re going to continue working to ensure that it doesn’t become an issue for us throughout the course of the tournament.”

While McNamara was understandably thrilled with his players after watching them get the better of England, the Ireland head coach feels there’s scope for improvement as the focus shifts to Australia.

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inpho_01511579 Ireland U20 head coach Noel McNamara (file pic). Source: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

He said: “When you factor in the quality of the opposition, you obviously have to be pleased with coming out on the right side of the result. I thought the quality of effort that the boys showed and their endeavour throughout the game was absolutely fantastic. That goes for the guys who came in as well as the 15 that started.

“We made life difficult for ourselves at times, particularly either side of half-time, which has usually been a period when we’ve been quite strong. But the resilience to dig in and find solutions was absolutely first-class.

“Obviously there are a number of areas where we feel we can be better, and that’s not a bad place to be when you consider that we scored 42 points and had a 16-point win. From that perspective, there were huge positives.

“It was obviously a strange game with the three cards that England experienced. Tactically for them they were obviously trying to slow the game down and almost while away those periods, while we were trying to do the opposite. It certainly presented us with challenges.

“At times our tactical approach could have been a little bit better in how we managed those periods when England were down a player. That’s something we’ll certainly look to improve on in the next game or two.

“Equally there were a couple of times where we didn’t exert pressure in the right part of the field. I suppose we invited some pressure on ourselves and conceded a couple of tries that we wouldn’t be happy with.”

McNamara also confirmed that Ulster’s Azur Allison won’t be involved in Ireland’s next fixture. After picking up a knock, the number eight had to be replaced by Ronan Watters in the 26th minute.

“The primary focus for us over the next couple of days is really on recovery,” explained McNamara. “It was physical yesterday. We probably would have hoped that the pace of the game would have been a little bit higher, but it was certainly a physical encounter. There were plenty of bruised bodies out there.

“In terms of an injury update, there’s not an awful lot we can say at this time. There are a few guys who had medicals this morning and will need to be reviewed.

“Azur Allison will not be available. He was removed due to a head injury and will follow the usual return-to-play protocols.”

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Paul Dollery

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