Ireland’s U-20s kick off their Six Nations campaign against Wales this evening and captain Gus McCarthy believes the tight bond within the squad will be crucial to their title defence.
McCarthy will lead his side out at Colwyn Bay, with Ireland seeking a fifth successive win over the Welsh at U-20 level.
Tonight’s opening clash against the Welsh is uncharted territory for the majority of Richie Murphy’s young side, but McCarthy insists they are capable of leaving north Wales with a win.
“We believe as a squad that if we put our best foot forward, we should be able to get the win,” said McCarthy.
“We’re really excited for it. We don’t know a huge amount about Wales, so we’re just focusing on ourselves and making sure we have everything to the best standard we can.”
Ireland prepared with a trio of friendlies over the festive period, and while McCarthy admits it took time for the new-look squad to gel together, he says the close bond they have now developed will stand them in good stead over the coming weeks.
“We’ve come together as a tight-knit group,” said McCarthy, who captained Blackrock College to a Senior Cup win last April.
“It took time at the start to get to know each other and gel. It will make a huge difference on the pitch. When you know the lad beside you is going to give whatever he has for the team, it’s just invaluable. When you’re friendly with lads, you’re that bit more hungry.”
Wales U-20 head coach Byron Hayward was on the touchline as Ireland ran out 53-5 winners at Musgrave Park last time before leading his side to an impressive runners-up finish in last year’s Summer Series.
“They will be a massive challenge as they are Grand Slam champions. Irish rugby has been flourishing for a number of years. But it is a challenge we are looking forward to. We face the best team first up,” said the Cardiff native.
Leinster and UCD hooker McCarthy admits he was honoured to be named captain by Murphy earlier this month and says having seven players with U-20 experience will be of huge benefit over the Six Nations campaign.
“I got a phone call from Richie. He asked me if I would be captain for the Six Nations, I was just really honoured,” smiled McCarthy, who, ironically, lived on Rugby Road in Ranelagh before moving to Blackrock aged eight.
“It took a few minutes for it to dawn on me. It’s a proud honour for me and my family.
“There’s a few lads with a lot of experience and that will be invaluable in those home games against France and England. Thousands of people packed in Musgrave Park. Most of us haven’t played with crowds like that.”
Ireland and Munster number eight Brian Gleeson also lauded the tight bond throughout the squad and is confident Ireland can get off to a winning start in Colwyn Bay.
“The closer you are as a team, the harder you will play for one another,” added the 19-year-old Garryowen man.
“Naturally, nerves will settle in, but it’s about keeping our focus. I want to put myself up against the best. We know that if we play as well as we can, we have a good shot in Wales.”
Wales U20s v Ireland U20s
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