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McNamara excited by addition of Saracens centre to Ireland U20 ranks

Oliver Morris has come through the IRFU’s IQ Rugby programme.
Jan 19th 2019, 9:00 AM 10,140 21

THE IRFU’S IQ Rugby programme, which was launched to identify and develop Irish-qualified talent overseas, is behind the inclusion of promising Saracens centre Oli Morris in Ireland’s squad for the upcoming U20 Six Nations.

Morris, who qualifies to represent Ireland through his Irish grandmother, was yesterday named in Noel McNamara’s 40-player squad for the 2019 championship.

Ollie Morris Morris played for a Leinster development side before Christmas. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Having previously represented England at underage level, Morris — whose older brother, Dom, is also in the Saracens academy — impressed McNamara and Irish management during two challenges matches last month.

Morris played for a Leinster development outfit against Ireland U20s at Donnybrook before Christmas, and was then asked to line out for Munster in a second warm-up game against McNamara’s side in December.

The versatile back, who can also play on the wing, featured for Saracens during their Anglo-Welsh Cup campaign last season, and is one of four IQ Rugby players in the Ireland U20 squad alongside Aaron O’Sullivan, who joined Leinster from Wasps in June, James McCarthy and Iwan Hughes.

“Oli has played underage for England but has been in contact with the IQ programme over there,” McNamara explained.

“Early in the year, he expressed an interest in being involved with us. He didn’t come in initially but came across and played in that game with Leinster. He did quite well in a challenging environment, having come in at short notice.

“I spoke to him afterwards and asked him to come back the next week and play for Munster and did so again. I had a good meeting with him there and he’s a guy who can add value too. He’s obviously coming from Saracens, a good club and good culture.

“I’m looking forward to getting him into camp next week and getting him involved in the team.”

McNamara is unsure if Morris will be staying at Saracens, or whether he’ll now look to play his rugby for one of the provinces.  

“I’m not sure, obviously, that’s something that IQ rugby would look after,” he added.

“I’m not sure what the answer is to that question right now. There are a couple of guys from the IQ programme who have come across and moved to provinces. He’s not one of them, but he’s certainly keenly committed to playing for Ireland.”

Morris will link up with the Ireland squad at Fota Island in Cork next week as preparations for the Six Nations opener against England on Friday 1 February intensify.

McNamara has named an exciting panel with Scott Penny and Angus Kernohan, both of whom have played senior rugby for Leinster and Ulster respectively this season, included.

Leinster centre David Hawkshaw, a two-time Senior Schools Cup winner with Belvedere College, will captain the side, with second row Charlie Ryan and Munster scrum-half Craig Casey named as part of a wider leadership group as vice-captains.

Previously, the players have selected their captain but at the squad announcement in Dublin yesterday, McNamara explained the coaching staff adopted a different approach this year.

“One of the things I considered doing was having a leadership group where the captain came from a different place each week,” the head coach said.

David Hawkshaw Hawkshaw captains the team. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“We need a more robust leadership system within the team. That is what we have gone with. We have got a leadership group of six. I just don’t think right now that placing all that onus on the players to elect one person was the right decision.

“When the players cross the line on the Friday night we are expecting them to make all of the decisions, but you can’t put it all on one person. That is something I would have experienced last year, a lot of pressure ended up with one person.

“I don’t know want to do that. That is a little bit of the thinking behind it. There is more people, we have built more of a structure now and certainly we feel that David should be really well supported within that structure.”

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Hawkshaw, who previously played hurling for the Dublin minors, has featured for Leinster ‘A’ this season having been one of the standout performers in Leinster schools rugby in recent seasons, starring for Belvo during their 2016 and 2017 title wins at out-half. 

He has been lining out for the U20s at inside centre in recent months, and McNamara feels Hawkshaw’s willingness to put the team ahead of himself made him the outstanding candidate for the captaincy.

“It’s a good appointment I feel, David is somebody I have known for a long time,” McNamara, who spent the winter coaching in New Zealand, continued.

He is somebody that would have been captain for the Irish Schools. The biggest compliment I can pay David is that he puts the needs of the team ahead of his own Even when his own needs aren’t being met.

“We have asked him to play out of position at times. He is currently playing number 12, he never complains, it’s always what’s best for the team. He is a very, very intelligent guy.”

Five players — Dylan Tierney-Martin, Ryan, Harry Byrne, Kernohan and James McCarthy — are involved again having featured during last year’s Six Nations and World U20 Championship, with all four provinces well represented across the group.  

Among the other notable inclusions are 19-year-old Leinster flanker Penny, who has made three Pro14 appearances this season, Ulster winger Kernohan, Billy Scannell — the younger brother of Ireland internationals Niall and Rory — and Munster’s Josh Wycherley, who will look to make the same impact as his brother, Fineen, did at U20 level.

Noel McNamara Ireland U20 head coach Noel McNamara. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

After a disappointing campaign in 2018, followed by an 11th-place finish at the World Championships in June, Ireland will be hoping for a stronger showing this time around, but McNamara appreciates it’s not all about results for this team.

“For me, it’s two-fold,” he admitted. “We want to find a sweet spot. We obviously want to be competitive, win as many games as we possibly can but equally, we’re a pathway team, we want to develop players.

“I quoted John Wooten last year and I will quote him again: ‘You can only judge the value of a season in 20 years’ time’. If we look back in 20 years’ time and we look at a number of players playing for the Irish senior team, playing for their provinces, being successful there.

“Unfortunately sometimes that doesn’t always work out through injury and a variety of other reasons. But we see good people as well, then we will certainly be happy with the year.”

Ireland welcome England to their new home at Musgrave Park in Cork on the opening weekend, before travelling to face Scotland in round two.

“I certainly couldn’t pick a game I’d love to have more in that first game,” McNamara added.

“It’s just a great challenge, they’ve [England] got a great history at U20 level. They’ve been world champions and won the Six Nations, but equally, we’ve turned them over a couple of times in that period.

“It’s a great way for us to start our campaign, to start off in a new home and as I said, if we can get a big crowd there and get on the front of that wave, I think it will be pretty exciting for us.” 

Ahead of the final weekend of European pool games, Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey look at what each of the provinces can expect, and who impressed last weekend:

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