Size not an issue for Ireland's scrum pillar Clarkson

The tighthead prop has grown into the championship to become a key player for Noel McNamara’s side.

OF ALL THE working parts in Noel McNamara’s well-oiled U20s side, few have performed as consistently well as the set-piece during this championship, with Ireland winning all 24 of their own scrums.

A key pillar of Ireland’s success, the pack has remained unchanged throughout the campaign and despite conceding size to many of their opponents, has provided an excellent platform for the halfbacks to pull the strings.

Tom Clarkson Ireland prop Thomas Clarkson in Dublin this week. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

McNamara has again named the same front eight for tomorrow’s Grand Slam decider against Wales at Colwyn Bay, a remarkable level of consistency when you consider the number of injuries suffered in previous years.

Prop Thomas Clarkson has played an integral role in Ireland’s set-piece dominance, the former Blackrock College man holding his own in the front row against opposition looseheads of greater weight and experience. 

The 19-year-old, who admits he was surprised to be installed as Ireland’s first-choice tighthead for the championship, offsets the size differential with a sound scrummaging technique, as evidenced against England’s Olly Adkins — who has three first-team appearances for Gloucester under his belt — on the opening weekend. 

“I don’t really like to look into other scrums that much,” Clarkson says.

“Before the England game, I scared myself a little watching them play in the Premiership. When I got into it, it wasn’t half as bad as I was expecting which was a nice surprise really.

“Being smaller than the rest of them, I need to make up for it with technique, because we’re such a tight unit, it’s not just me really, the second rows and the back rows, they really want to scrum. 

“In a lot of scrums, they can nod off and, when we go in, we do so as a unit. If we weren’t, we would just fall apart. 

“Going in there with Dylan [Tierney-Martin] beside me, he really knows what he is about.”

A member of Blackrock’s Leinster Senior Schools Cup-winning team last year alongside Liam Turner, Clarkson has made excellent progress in recent times, gaining valuable exposure playing for Trinity in the All-Ireland League.

He is the second youngest member of the current Ireland squad [behind David McCann] having only just turned 19 and with another year at this age grade ahead of him, Clarkson has enjoyed the experience.

“Yeah, it is nice to get a bit of experience I feel,” he continues.

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Thomas Clarkson celebrates Clarkson won the Senior Cup with Blackrock last year. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I just put in a shift this year. I haven’t been doing much to stand out around the park. I just want to help the team really, gain experience, go to the World Cup and go into next year as a fully functioning tighthead.

“It was a bit of a surprise to be there [in the team] at the start but I’ve grown into it. There is a lot of quality, Ryan Lomas is just behind me.”

On lining out for Trinity in Division 1A under Tony Smeeth, he adds: “It was important. It took me a while to break into the starting team. 

“I think it wasn’t until November I was there as the starting tighthead. It was just a new level and I’m quite slow to take on a new level. The way I grew into the AIL helped me in here because, obviously, you’re playing England in the first game. You don’t have time to be slow starters.

I was happy to put on a show against England and have it behind me as a good experience.

Both Clarkson and Ireland have grown into this championship and after clinching the Six Nations title with victory over France last weekend, have the chance to become just the second Ireland U20s side to win the Grand Slam. 

“Noel Mc said that, after the last game this team played at U18s, he said he could really see us going on to being successful,” Clarkson adds.

“I found that hard to imagine then. After Fota [pre-championship camp] is when it really came together for me. We seemed like an actual team. Before that, we were people trying to gel. In Fota, we really came together. 

“I felt it really as a team going into England.”

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