Saturday 23 February 2019

McNamara backs 'selfless' Hawkshaw to lead by example in Ireland U-20s Six Nations campaign

Ireland U20's head coach Noel McNamara Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Ireland U20's head coach Noel McNamara Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

For the last few years, the Ireland U-20s captain has been voted for by his fellow players but in a move away from that model, David Hawkshaw has been chosen by the coaching group to lead the country in the upcoming Six Nations.

Having spent three months coaching in New Zealand at the tail end of last year, one of the main things that head coach Noel McNamara took from that invaluable experience was the importance of spreading the work load as well as the responsibility.

After all, these players are not long out of school and are still very much developing as players and as leaders.

There were plenty of contenders to skipper this year's team, but Hawkshaw was selected by McNamara, Ambrose Conboy (forwards) and Kieran Campbell (defence), who has come on board this year.

A 40-strong squad has been named, although several players including Ulster's Angus Kernohan, Stewart Moore and Azur Allison will miss the Six Nations opener against England at Irish Independent Park on February 1.

A two-time Senior Cup winner with Belvedere, Hawkshaw has good sporting pedigree, including having played hurling with the Dublin minors.

"It's a good appointment I feel, David is somebody I have known for a long time," McNamara said.

"He would have been captain for the Irish Schools. Unfortunately just before we went to go to Wales he got injured in our last training session.

"He puts the needs of the team ahead of his own. That's the highest compliment I can pay him. Even when his own needs aren't being met.

"We have asked him to play out of position at times. He is currently playing No 12, he never complains, it's always what's best for the team. He is a very, very intelligent guy.

"Credit to Belvedere... some of the guys they have produced over the last couple of years. Hugh O'Sullivan we are seeing now and we will see over the coming weeks what he can do.

"He has good rugby knowledge and is understanding. He is a good leader in his own way, authentic in how he leads. The main thing is he puts the needs of the team ahead of his own.

"It has been slightly different this year. We have gone with more of a player-involvement model.

"We place an awful lot of pressure on the captaincy, we place a lot of emphasis on the captaincy up here.

"One of the things I considered doing was having a leadership group where the captain came from a different place each week. We need a more robust leadership system within the team. That is what we have gone with.

"I just don't think right now that placing all that onus on the players to elect one person was the right decision.

"We are keen to use player ownership and involvement but that is something we are trying to evolve much more."

Scott Penny might well have been in the captaincy mix, but given that the flanker may be needed by Leinster in their upcoming PRO14 games, the hugely talented 19-year-old may not feature for the Ireland U-20s.

"Scott has had a great year, he's a good player," McNamara maintained.

"At U-18 level two years ago, Scott was a standout player in Europe in his position, arguably full stop.

"He's done really well for Leinster. In many ways, it is out of our control but we have got an extremely supportive head coach in Leo Cullen, who firmly believes in the U-20s programme.

"It will be an individual basis. Leo is very supportive and Scott is really keen to play for us."

Suppliers

All four provinces are well represented, with Leinster once again acting as the bulk suppliers, while Oli Morris (Saracens) is the only exiles representative. The outside centre has family connections in Sligo.

The back-line is littered with explosive potential including the likes of Munster trio Craig Casey, Sean French and Jake Flannery.

Interestingly, there are three players included in the squad who are younger brothers of current professionals - Billy Scannell, Josh Wycherley and Harry Byrne will be looking to follow in their brothers' footsteps.

"With siblings, it's difficult," McNamara added.

"I think for Billy, Billy will be Billy and that's really important. He's a good rugby player, he's a good guy.

"I'm really looking forward to seeing what he can produce, as I am with the other guys. I think it's really important for him, and Harry (and Josh) for that matter, to be themselves."

See factfile for full squad

Irish Independent

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