Friday 21 July 2017

'Momentum' firmly with U-20s as they chase shot at history

Ireland U20 Tommy O'Brien. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Ireland U20 Tommy O'Brien. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Long after the dust has settled and the bright lights of the Millennium Stadium have been dimmed, four hours north of Cardiff, the Ireland U-20s will look to take another giant step towards clinching a first Grand Slam.

Should Ireland leave Colwyn Bay this evening with victory, it would set up a mouthwatering final-day showdown with England in Dublin on St Patrick's Day.

There has been an added excitement in the squad this week but that is being tempered by the fact that a strong Welsh side lie in their way.

Ireland have been quietly going about their business and have improved with each passing game but there is a shared feeling among both the coaches and the players that there is still more to come.

And they will need more against Wales, who have only been beaten by England in this year's tournament.

Ireland's win over France last time out was far from flawless but it was nevertheless a major statement of their intent.

The pack laid down a marker early and with the fit-again Bill Johnston pulling the strings from out-half, Tommy O'Brien and Jordan Larmour thrived in the open space.

However, the Colwyn Bay surface is however a far cry from the slick 4G pitch in Donnybrook and that will present some challenges for Nigel Carolan's youngsters.

Confidence is high, and crucially Ireland have that winning habit. Yet there is a sense that this is a grounded squad and no one is getting ahead of themselves just yet.

"We've got a bit of momentum, I think is the best way to term it," assistant coach Peter Malone observed.

"I don't think we'd be jumping up and down with our performances against Scotland and Italy but in saying that we went away from home and scraped a win, but without executing everything we would have liked to execute.

"It's gaining momentum but I think this is going to be our biggest challenge, away from home against Wales who have gone pretty well bar that England game.

"This will be our biggest challenge and it's important we grow every week and we'll need to step it up again against Wales.

"I think we haven't seen the best of us. You're always waiting for the best and sometimes it never comes but along the way you've got to keep doing everything you can do.

"Is there more? Yes I think there's more but I think there needs to be because if we perform the way we did in the first two games, I don't think we'll hold a candle to Wales or England. Hopefully there's another big step up against Wales."

The return of Jack Kelly will add another dimension to an already hugely potent Ireland backline. Larmour has been one of the standout players in the Six Nations and he has the ability to cause plenty of problems from full-back.

"There's great energy," Malone added. "To be in a winning group is super because you don't have to pick guys up on a Monday morning and you can go hard on the reviews as guys are in a positive frame of mind.

"You've got to temper those when you lose matches but everything has been growing and we've been getting better every week."

If they improve again this evening, Ireland should remain on course for a shot at history next week.

Verdict: Ireland

Wales U-20s - R Williams; C Baldwin, C Lewis, K Williams, R Conbeer; B Jones, D Blacker; R Carre, C Tarrant, K Assiratti; A Dombrandt, S Moore; S Lewis-Hughes, W Jones (capt), A Ward. Reps: O Hughes, S Thomas, C Coleman, J Pope, J Botham, R Morgan-Williams, P Jones, I Nicholas.

Ireland U-20s - J Larmour; T O'Brien, J Kelly, C Frawley, C Nash (capt); B Johnston, J Stewart; J Conway, T McElroy, C Connolly; F Wycherley, O Dowling; G Coombes, P Boyle, C Doris. Reps: R Kelleher, G McGrath, M Burke, J Regan, J Stafford, C Fitzgerald, C Hogan.

Wales U-20s v Ireland U-20s,

Live, RTE2, 6.30

Irish Independent

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport