Carolan excited by 'X-factor' in Ireland's quicksilver backline
Published 27/01/2017 | 02:30
Nigel Carolan summed up the U-20s age-grade best when he described it as a "blank canvas every year", as he attempts to mould an Ireland team good enough to win their first Six Nations title in seven years.
While this year's pack might not be on the same scale physically as last year, Carolan is confident that they will be able to cope with the demands of what is always a hugely demanding tournament.
Connacht second-row Cillian Gallagher was outstanding last year and he has added plenty of bulk to his already hulking frame, which will provide some much needed ballast to the pack.
The highly-rated Caelan Doris will be under-age again next year and big things are also expected of the former Blackrock College student. But in the backline, there is even more excitement and indeed, expectation.
"This is a real talented bunch - some really good individuals again, like you have every year," Carolan enthused.
"I think the strength this year is that we have some real X-factor in the backs. There's a core of really good guys there. If we can get the ball off the forwards, they can do some real damage."
One of the major challenges that Carolan faces is trying to fit all of those talented youngsters into what is a real quicksilver backline.
Captain Jack Kelly is a certain starter, most likely from full-back, and he and centre Jordan Larmour have both already spent time in the senior Ireland camp.
Munster duo Calvin Nash and Colm Hogan are potent finishers, while their provincial team-mate Bill Johnston is due back from an ankle injury in time for the France game in three weeks.
"We know it's about trying to have all of our best players on the pitch at any one time," Carolan explained.
"There is a bit of versatility with Calvin Nash being able to play on the wing and Gavin Mullin being able to play on the wing as well.
"It gives us versatility and also options because we know that we're not going to be able to carry the same backline or the same team through a tournament. I think there's good guys in the squad who can fill in and hopefully be ready.
"We've realised that less is more. We have our own sort of mantra as a team from the start: the simple things done brilliantly. We've pared everything right back and tried to simplify it.
"The players still have the power to make decisions within the parameters, but there's sort of less of a menu to select from. That stood us well through the World Cup last year.
"I think we're a better team when we've got less things to focus on. We've seen over the last two years, that's when the difference is made in the games, it's not the fancy moves or plays.
"It's in the individual and how he carries himself and how he copes with the level of physicality.
"His lungs are burning in an international pressure cooker, it's a big step up for these guys, but if he can deal with that everything else seems to flow from that."
Ireland begin their Six Nations campaign in Scotland next Friday night and after famously beating New Zealand last year, expectations are high once again.
"We want this to be a big deal," Carolan added. "We want this to be something special, we want this to be a positive experience for these guys as they go on to other things in their careers."