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Stewart hails strong bond of U-20s squad as England loom

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Tom Stewart of Ireland, centre, celebrates as Mark Hernan of Ireland scores his side's first try during the U20 Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Wales at Irish Independent Park in Cork. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Tom Stewart of Ireland, centre, celebrates as Mark Hernan of Ireland scores his side's first try during the U20 Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Wales at Irish Independent Park in Cork. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Tom Stewart of Ireland, centre, celebrates as Mark Hernan of Ireland scores his side's first try during the U20 Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Wales at Irish Independent Park in Cork. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

One of the biggest things that Noel McNamara has focused on since taking over as Ireland U-20s head coach in 2018 has been the importance of creating strong bonds off the pitch.

Such is the rate of turnover at age-grade level, many of the players will never have met each other, let alone played alongside one another, so it makes sense for the coaches to push them out of their comfort zones.

That means ensuring players from different provinces room together, while a similar policy is in place when it comes to team meals.

The easiest thing for a youngster coming into the squad for the first time would be to gravitate towards familiar faces, but McNamara has ensured that there no cliques.

Ulster hooker Tom Stewart, who only recently left school, is relishing that openness within the squad as he plays at U-20s level a year young.

Impressed

Stewart has impressed from the start in Ireland's opening two wins but he will be asked to make an impact off the bench in tomorrow's clash in England.

"All the boys are really tight group and it makes it a lot easier," Stewart said of that close bond.

"You play with, more or less, your mates. Your friends, it's good.

"You can go out and train, have a bit of fun. You know when you need to get into training, you can switch on. You're ready for it and you're not messing about. Then afterwards you know you can switch off and have a bit of a laugh with the boys.

"Noel says, 'You are what you consistently do'. I think with the boys, it's always good that we're having that bit of competition. When you rock out onto the pitch, you know the personal effort around you. You've got their back and they've got yours."

Ireland U-20 (v England) - O McNulty; E McIlroy, D Kelly, H Hyde, A Smith; J Crowley, L Finlay; M Hanan, J McKee, T Clarkson; T Ahern, B Deeny; A Soroka, S O'Brien, D McCann. Reps: T Stewart, H Noonan, C Ward, J McCarthy, C Prendergast, B Murphy, T Corkery, M O'Reilly.

Irish Independent