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Richie Murphy backs Ireland U-20s to overcome lack of game-time due to pandemic


Ireland U-20s head coach Richie Murphy. Photo by: Sportsfile

Ireland U-20s head coach Richie Murphy. Photo by: Sportsfile

Ireland U-20s head coach Richie Murphy. Photo by: Sportsfile

Ireland U-20s head coach Richie Murphy is hoping his young players can overcome their significant lack of game-time at international level when they begin their Six Nations campaign against Wales in Cork on Friday night.

For the majority of the 31-strong squad, this will be their first experience of playing age-grade rugby, as Covid meant there was no Ireland U-18s or U-19s in the last couple of years.

That presents many challenges, as this year’s crop, which is once again full of exciting potential, are at a disadvantage compared to Ireland U-20s teams of the past.

“It is an issue, definitely,” Murphy admitted.

“OK, a lot of them haven’t played for Ireland at 18s or 19s, but even a lot of them have missed their Schools Cup rugby over the past couple of seasons as well, so there is definitely something missing there for some of the guys, and it means their learning curve is a little bit steeper probably than it would have been if they had had those experiences.

“But the one thing I couldn’t fault is their application and dedication towards the whole thing. They’ve been really focused and worked really hard in the camps we’ve had. We’ve had a good bit of time with them, we’ve played three games and we’ve seen improvement through all those three games, so we’re just trying to sharpen them up now for Friday against Wales.

“It’s kind of the same demands, but what we have to do is realise that we may need to go back a little bit more than what we would have liked, in order to bring guys forward.

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“The other thing that has happened within this group is obviously with the Covid situation, guys have been coming in and out of camp. So we’ve had five camps, but very few players would have actually been at all five of those.”

Ulster back-row Reuben Crothers will captain the squad that also includes exciting Munster Academy full-back Pa Campbell, who scored a try on his memorable senior debut against Wasps before Christmas.

Even if there are concerns about players stepping up to international rugby, the manner in which Campbell and Tony Butler and Ethan Coughlan, who are both also in the squad, handled the Champions Cup occasion is encouraging for Murphy, who is keen to continue playing an expansive brand.

“Definitely, the big thing for them on that occasion is they had a nice lead-in,” Murphy added. 

“They kind of knew what was happening, two weeks experience going into it. We’ve kind of had that this week. We’ve had that lead-in with four days’ training and then we’ll go into Cork on Tuesday. I think those experiences are massively important to them.

“I know that guys came back into camp. They played on the Saturday and I think they came into camp the following Monday and some of them found it hard just to come down from that high.

“In fairness, it was really good exposure for them. It tested them and I think they’re all in a better place coming into this sort of situation and looking towards a Six Nations match next Friday. That experience will stand to those guys.

“In relation to U-20s rugby in Ireland over the last few years, we’ve always been in a situation where we’ve tried to get them to play to space. That’s still very much the philosophy of where we’re going.”

Ireland U-20s Six Nations squad: Forwards (17): O Michel, J Hanlon, A McNamee, C Moloney, J Glasgow, M Morrissey, R Crothers (capt), J Culhane, R McGuire, J McCormick, C O’Tighearnaigh, D McSweeney, J Boyle, J McNabney, S Wilson, J O’Sullivan, R O’Sullivan. Backs (14): M Devine, C Tector, A King, B Brownlee, F Gibbons, P Campbell, D Hawkshaw, E Coughlan, C Mullins, T Butler, D O’Grady, D Squires, A Maher, S Mallon.

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