Ireland U-20s refusing to look beyond Italy clash
After Ireland's impressive showing at last year's Junior World Cup, you could be forgiven for forgetting that prior to that, the Six Nations campaign was a huge disappointment.
This year's captain Nick McCarthy, who was involved in both tournaments under previous coach Mike Ruddock, hasn't forgotten, however, and he is eager to relay that to his side as they prepare to take on Italy in Milan tomorrow.
The Leinster academy scrum-half described being chosen as captain by Nigel Carolan as a "massive honour" but the hurt of last year still irks him.
"We didn't do very well in the Six Nations last year, we only beat Italy and Scotland, so it's massive for us to improve on that," he said. "We came fourth in the World Cup but when it mattered most we lost to England and New Zealand and it was definitely disappointing to finish with two heavy defeats."
McCarthy is one of six players previously capped in this competition included in the starting XV, with Carolan naming nine debutants.
Despite the host of fresh faces, McCarthy is adamant that they, along with the new coaching staff, have brought a renewed freshness to the set-up.
"It was great to be coached by Mike last year. He's a really good coach but it's nice to have a new coach as well," McCarthy said.
"Nigel has given the players a lot of responsibility to make decisions themselves on the pitch, which can only be good for our development.
"We have a good squad and plenty of experience still from last year along with some new faces so there's a good balance."
Ireland struggled to break Italy down for large parts of last year's game, and McCarthy doesn't need any reminding about how difficult tomorrow's task will be.
With the likes of Billy Dardis, Garry Ringrose and Greg O'Shea in the XV, the emphasis will be on getting their back line moving as often as possible, and McCarthy is expecting his forwards to set the platform.
"We had a tough game against them (Italy) in Athlone last year. They put up a good fight like they always do. We'll have a close look at them and see how we can break them down.
"Matches are won and lost up front so if the forwards front up, which I think they will, it will create chances for the guys out wide. There's huge depth in the back line and we need to use it."
This year's U-20s World Cup takes place in Italy in June and despite the focus firmly remaining on the Six Nations, McCarthy knows how important the momentum gained from a good campaign can be in going forward for the rest of the year.
"If we work hard from now until the end of the tournament, I think we're definitely capable of going on to win the World Cup and the Six Nations this year. But we'll take it one game at a time."
Ireland (v Italy) - B Dardis; G O'Shea, G Ringrose, F Cleary, J Owens; R Byrne, N McCarthy; J Loughman, Z McCall, O Heffernan; D O'Connor, A Thompson; J Murphy, R Moloney, L Dow. Reps: A McBurney, M Lagan, C O'Donnell, C Romaine, N Timoney, J Cullen, J Carbery, S Arnold.