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Dublin: 11°C Monday 10 May 2021

'I was only expecting to get maybe one cap this year but I'm delighted'

19-year-old openside flanker Scott Penny has already made four senior starts for Leinster.

TRAINING AGAINST JOE Schmidt’s senior Ireland team last Friday was a big opportunity and a big deal for the Ireland U20s.

But it wasn’t quite as daunting for Scott Penny as it might have been for some of his team-mates in the U20s set-up.

The 19-year-old, still in his first season out of school, has already racked up four starts in the Guinness Pro14 for Leinster, impressing in each of those outings for his province and marking himself out as a major prospect on the openside flank.

Scott Penny 19-year-old Penny is in his first season out of school. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Penny says there was a sense of being “almost afraid to make mistakes there just because Joe is watching,” but he enjoyed the high tempo of the session at the Aviva Stadium as the U20s looked towards this Friday’s Six Nations clash with Italy.

Noel McNamara’s men have secured wins against England and Scotland in their two championship outings so far, with Penny shining in both successes with his tirelessly powerful tackling, clever breakdown work and strength on the ball.

The four starts he has made for Leinster this season – against the Ospreys, Dragons, Ulster and Scarlets – sent him into this Six Nations better prepared than he ever could have imagined would be the case.

“I was only really expecting to get maybe one cap this year but I’m delighted to get four caps now and, hopefully, I can get a few more after this Six Nations,” says Penny of his exposure with Leinster.

“I probably won’t get that many more opportunities because there’s a certain amount of games you can play – 25 a season – so I’m probably coming up close to that now with the Six Nations and the World Cup in June.

“With people away with injury and Ireland, I got my opportunities. All the senior lads there helped me ease my way in so it wasn’t too nerve-wracking.”

Penny’s Leinster debut came in November against the Ospreys, with a try for good measure, and it wasn’t clear whether he would be available to the U20s due to the run of games he secured for Leo Cullen’s side.

The flanker jokes that “I just do whatever I’m told!” but he’s happy to be involved in this exciting U20s campaign.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and you never get to play 20s again so I’m really enjoying myself and, hopefully, I get to play all the rest of the games as well.

Scott Penny Penny has scored two tries in his four Leinster starts. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“It’s great to be playing with all your mates. I played with these guys at 18s, 19s, a few of them in school so it’s really good to play with them again.”

Penny first played rugby as a six-year-old with Lansdowne, following the lead of his older brother, Alex, who is now captain of UCD.

Scott kept up Gaelic football with Kilmacud Crokes and played hurling up until the oval ball became an obsession when he entered St Michael’s College for secondary school.

The hurling was dropped in first year but the football lasted until fourth year, by which time rugby was getting serious for Penny.

“I always really enjoyed it and in first year I started getting better and then in third year, people started saying, ‘You could make a career out of this,’ and I thought maybe. Things have gone on from there.”

Penny excelled for Michael’s and although the school didn’t win a Leinster Schools Senior Cup in his time on the team, he advanced straight into the Leinster academy upon graduation.

This season began superbly as Penny scored eight tries in seven games for Leinster A in their run to Celtic Cup success. 

“Pretty much all of them were pick-and-gos or maul tries so I didn’t have to do too much,” he says with a smile, although the handy knack for try-scoring has continued with two in his first four senior games for Leinster.

6ft Penny is listed as weighing 100kg by Leinster but he punches well above that weight, having excelled physically against far more experienced and developed players in his outings for the province’s senior team.

Scott Penny and James Scott Penny looks for an offload against England. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

His power has been impressive for the U20s too and Penny confirms that “the physical bit would probably be my favourite part of the game, the tackle and the breakdown mainly. I just like getting stuck in.”

He has enjoyed combining with number eight John Hodnett and blindside flanker Martin Moloney so far in this Six Nations, their skillsets complimenting each other well to give Ireland a balanced back row.

“Marty and John are unbelievable players,” says Penny. “John’s ability to carry is unbelievable and Marty is so good at the breakdown. The amount of work they get through is crazy, it’s really good. They definitely help me anyway.”

The hope is that they can help Ireland to keep their momentum rolling in Rieti in Italy on Friday night.

“We know Italy are going to be a really good team. They had a really good win against Scotland in the first round and were probably unlucky to lose to Wales but they’re a really good side who play with a lot of pace and try to physically dominate you.”

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Murray Kinsella

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